Should Students Pay for Their Education?

By Tony Major.

The government has decided that students should pay up to £27,000 to be able to get an honours degree during their recent spending review; and students wishing to further their education in college are looking at paying around £1,500 per year for level 2/3 (GCSE/’A’ level) qualification. In my view this will stop people studying and improving their life chances. In fact I know several students who have said that they will not be able to complete their studies as they can’t afford the upfront costs of further education.

The reason given for students making substantial contributions to their education is that they will benefit from it to such an extent that they will earn significantly more than those who do not receive further and higher education. Whilst I accept that this may be the case, how do students receive their extra income? Usually, by working for a business. If they work for a business, then you can guarantee that that business is earning more from the employee’s work than the employee is. So who really benefits from an educated workforce? I would suggest business and through increased taxes: our society.

The aim of educating the population has been to produce workers; in 1776, Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’ suggested that “the greater part of what is taught in schools and universities does not seem to be the proper preparation for that of business”, i.e. education was failing students and business. There have been many attempts over the years to address this problem and currently (within further education any way) the government have created the Sector Skills Council. This body allows business to direct the content and direction of qualifications awarding bodies (such as the City and Guilds) give, so that it fulfils their needs. Indeed the Leitch (2007) and Wolf (2011) reports (educational reform reports) suggest that it is vital that business take a greater part in the education of our students.

My conclusion therefore is: if businesses are adapting the education of our students to benefit themselves, than they should help pay for it. This could eliminate student fees altogether; and according to an article I read can be achieved by taxing only businesses that have a profit of £1,500,000 or more per year. This in turn would put smaller businesses on a more equal footing to their larger competitors helping competition. At the end of the day if you want an educated society which will ensure the prosperity of the nation, why restrict the pool of talent from which we can draw by making it impossible for some to get an education. Education should be a human right and should be free.

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