After a recent open letter co-signed by our Vice-Chancellor Professor Graham Henderson CBE in The Times yesterday, we feel the need to respond with our interpretation and criticism of his actions.
In the letter, it states his opposition to a Labour Party policy suggestion of lowing tuition fees from £9000 to £6000 per year. In light of his opposition to even a moderate change to the level of tuition fees, we feel his position is unacceptable to the students of his institution, who will walk away tens of thousands in debt.
First of all, he himself is condemning students, many of whom are young members of society yet to live their lives, to a lifetime of debt. With much of that debt never being repaid in full due to the sheer amount a student will accumulate during the course of their studies with not only the cost of tuition, but also the costs of their student loans for them to sustain themselves while away from home. This is not counting the amount of interest added on. This means for the poorest members of society, to study for three years at a higher education institution (assuming they are qualified for the maximum amount of financial help from the Students Loans Company) will have a debt of around £36,000 right after they have finished their degree. This is a conservative estimate. The amount of debt for courses with an inbuilt foundation year or part of a longer degree program (such as a degree in medicine) will be around £49,000 minimum after the completion of the degree. As you, the reader of this response can see, is an enormous amount of debt. This is not even including the amount of interest added on top of that debt over the 30 year period before the debt is finally written off. Although there has been improvement in the repayment method, namely the £21,000 barrier before repayment begins, we feel the sheer amount to repay far outweighs the benefits of improvements to the repayment method.
Our vice-chancellor Professor Graham Henderson CBE went to higher education at Nene College (now University of Northampton) in 1975, has never experienced the burden and stress associated with paying a large amount of student debt. This was because like most of our political leadership nationally, went into higher education at a time when it was free and living costs where paid for using non-repayable grants. Therefore we find it unacceptable that he supports tuition fees and student debt when he himself, benefitted from an education that cost him nothing and brought him bountiful opportunities that he has experienced in his lifetime, effectively taking away the ladder of opportunity from the younger generation that like him, are starting off as a student before enjoying a highly successful career.
Of course we don't oppose everything that is contained in the open letter. We too support more financial help for students to elevate the effects of rises in the costs of living such as rent costs, which is some parts of the country, can wipe out the majority of a student loan. We acknowledge that we have avoided the worst of the increases in rent in Teesside, but we still stand in solidarity with students across the country that are further crippled by an unaffordable rise in the cost of living. However, this financial help must not increase the burden of debt on students, nor should it be unaffordable on the taxpayer - the men and woman who are the lifeblood of this country.
Our solution to the problems of tuition fees, student loans, student debt and the affordability on the UK treasury is the implementation of a more progressive taxation regime. This would mean that people like our vice chancellor would contribute more into the treasury, which is only fair. This would at the same time reduce the amount of inequality in society by reducing the tax burden on the poorest members of society and expand public services such as a free education. This would cause an improvement of social mobility in our society, allowing people a pathway into successful and well paid employment. This would also increase employment, especially in area's such as the north east, as the workforce will be better equipped to find employment as they will have the practical skills and key transferable skills developed while in higher education, thus improving the UK economy and commerce as a whole.
With that aside, we also want to talk about another issue. While the row continues over freedom of speech in light of the official cancellation of the debate we organised by the Students Union (SU), we just want to note that by signing this open letter, the university itself as an academic institute has forgone any neutrality on the issue of higher education. Our reasoning for this is because the hierarchy of the university (chiefly the executive) expressed support for the policy of retaining a £9000 per year cap on tuition fees, as supported by the conservatives and by attacking a policy by the Labour Party, this gives us grounds to believe that the university as an institution has a political leaning. This opens the possibility (and fuels our belief) that the university itself is exerting undue influence on the SU. This was predominately shown by the clamping down on the question time event organised by us, even though we wanted it to be held and we booked it in a room at the university and NOT in the SU. Although this can't be proven since we don't have physical evidence, this is the impression we are given.
Teesside Free Education Campaign.