Much of Labour’s General Election campaign has been the familiar and outdated Marxist claptrap about bashing the rich. However one of their most eye-catching (and expensive policies) is thoroughly anti-egalitarian.
Labour plans to scrap tuition fees. That means that working-class taxpayers will subsidize middle class students. The cost will be a hefty £9.5 billion a year.
But why should those starting out as milkmen, plumbers and bakers pay to help their contemporaries earn far more as lawyers, bankers and management consultants?
The big objection to tuition fees (introduced by Labour, then increased by the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition) was that they would deter people from going to universities.
But the fees are not paid up front – they are repaid gradually once the students are in well paid jobs. UCAS figures show applications for full-time undergraduate higher education close to record highs, while the application rates for disadvantaged students continue to rise.
Claims from the National Union Students, and assorted other agitprop outfits, that poor applicants are being deterred have been proved patently false.
Indeed, the financial responsibility that students now undertake rewards those who spend their time studying something worthwhile – rather than the assorted “social science” Mickey Mouse courses.
It gives colleges more financial independence from the state. Rather than cravenly following Government targets and quotas they can focus more on providing students with value for money.
Of course it is not just in the UK where this debate is underway. In the United States tuition fees are well established. Yet the system is under strain as the government subsidies are too great.
Bernie Sanders naturally demanded that fees be scrapped. But, far from restoring the American Dream, that would be a recipe for bankruptcy.
An American with a degree earns 70% more each year than one with only a high-school diploma. So the same argument about fairness applies. The Heritage Foundation has argued that a better approach is to encourage more competition – with innovative new colleges taking on the older, more expensive universities.
Around the world tuition fees are widely accepted as a fair and practical part of the higher education system. There is something of an international market with people going abroad to study.
Some have pointed out that other countries have lower fees than the UK. But then others – such as Singapore and Australia – charge more. There is certainly no shortage of overseas students enrolling on British campuses, which is a fine thing for British influence and prestige.
It is unclear what problem the abolition of tuition fees would solve. But it is clear it would hobble higher education and push up public borrowing – which remains at dangerously high levels.