In my view Jeremy Corbyn is a bit of a snake oil salesman when it comes to university funding. The truth is that his policy – free university funding for all – is fiscally irresponsible but more importantly it will only benefit the middle classes – who are far more likely to go to university – at the expense of lower income groups. Why should someone learning to be hairdresser fund someone through his or her taxes learning to be a doctor?
As for this idea that the current system is putting poorer students off from going, it is blatantly untrue; statistically the proportion of disadvantaged students at university stands at a record high. The fees system was supplemented by an expansion of places at English universities, which benefitted everyone. And those universities charging £9,000 fee are required to plough a proportion of that money back into helping poor students. I realise this system is not entirely popular with the young and has proved a fertile recruiting ground amongst them for Jeremy Corbyn’s Momentum movement and other campaigning candidates, but they should look towards Scotland as an example where tuition fees have been abolished for Scots.
Today, its universities rely on English fee-paying students to survive - and I know because my daughter is one of them! – and offer very few places to indigenous Scottish students. They also offer measly support with living expenses so that a teenager in a deprived area of Scotland is far less likely to get into a Scottish university than their English equivalent.
Universities in England are now better funded than they have been for a generation and sharing the cost of university between taxpayers as a whole and the graduates who directly benefit from university study must be a fair principle. But while significant progress in education reform over recent years has succeeded in driving up school standards and improving the choice and quality of technical education, the current post-18 system is not working as well as it could be - for young people or for the country.
That is why The Prime Minister has launched a wide-ranging review into post-18 education and funding. In the short term an issue that needs addressing sooner rather than later is the high pay for Vice-Chancellors. There is a feeling that there is too much reward for mediocre or poor performance; that is why Parliament is trying to ensure that the Office for Students (OfS), the new student regulator will have new powers to make the pay of Vice Chancellors a priority. We are also looking at an outdated attitude that favours academic over technical qualifications, to ensure we have parity of esteem between university and vocational options.