UK university enrolment rises despite tuition fees -

UK university enrolment rises despite tuition fees


The UK’s overall university enrolment numbers have continued to climb despite the 2006 introduction of increased tuition fees (called top-up fees). As The Guardian reports, the news is not quite as rosy for youth from disadvantaged backgrounds:

The introduction of top-up fees in 2006 has not dented the rise in numbers of students starting university but increases in the proportion from the poorest homes have stalled, according to a report from the universities umbrella group.

The number of first-time undergraduates has increased substantially every year since 2004 but the proportion from the poorest areas, or of ethnic minorities which are under-represented at university, has hardly changed despite a multi-million pound drive by the government to counter the effect of higher fees.

The findings prove the fears of critics of the top-up fees, which triggered one of Tony Blair’s biggest ever rebellions in 2004, with fewer students from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university than the government had hoped for.

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UK university enrolment rises despite tuition fees

  1. ???

    Another way of putting this is: Tuition fees rose by $4000 in a single year (yes, $4000. The biggest tuition fee increase in history, anywhere in the world). The number of people in university from poor backgrounds subsequently rose. At the same rate that the number of people from other backgrounds rose.

    *This* “proves the fear of critics”? Please. Go back to 2004/5 and read some of the critiques of the top-up fees plan. The very last thing the critics were saying was that low-income students share of enrolments would stay constant. What they said was that their share would plummet, because of fears about cost and debt. And they were wrong.

    This is a significant re-writing of recent history.

  2. The narrative in the article is not quite as dramatically Orwellian as you suggest Alex. There were many critics of the top-ups. I doubt the article would be quite as interesting if the reporter named them all individually.

    Jokes aside, the basic point here is, I think, that critics of the top-ups suggested that increased fees would disadvantage the poorest the most. As the article notes, despite the UK government’s recruitment efforts and significant new investments in student supports, the most disadvantaged have made no gains since the introduction of top-ups.

  3. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t there a similar issue in Ireland where free education is seen by many as a big subsidy to the middle class with poorer students still not going in droves as we are told they are suppose to…

  4. I have a problem with language like “subsidy to the middle class”, because this supposes someone else than the middle class would pay for them. However the middle class also pays the largest portion of the income tax, so if anything it would be a subsidy for themselves.

    Maybe (and again it would be very difficult to say so with the limited data we have) it is a subsidy to the middle class from higher-income classes, which is not awfully bad in itself. But it’s also a subsidy to people who have children who go to university from people who don’t, regardless of the class background.

    So a more important question, it seems to me, is whether it’s a good idea to have people who don’t have children (or who have children who don’t do as much schooling) partly subsidize the education of children from other families. And the answer to that question is partly related to what you expect to be the “benefit to society” of encouraging more people to attend university and finish their degree.

  5. Dale,

    Yes, but the point is that the evidence suggests that poorer students were *not* more disadvantaged than the others. The socio-economic composition of the student body has not changed since the fees were introduced. This is contrary to the very clearly-stated view of NUS and others that top-up fees would “widen the gap” betwee rich and poor.

    There’s a good reason this didn’t happen: the equity issue raised in 2004 was a complete red herring because students from poor backgrounds were not being asked to pay a cent more in tuition under the new plan. The poorest third of students in the UK did not pay tuition under the old regime, and they don’t pay any (net) tuition now, either, as they received grants that offset the tuition completely.

  6. Depends on your perspective Alex. I would call it mixed news. The report notes that, while applications are up, there has been “no significant change in the ethnic, social class or age profile of accepted applicants across the four years 2004/05–2007/08” despite increased spending to change this (i.e., to widen participation). Thanks for sharing your views.