Since the £9,000 cap, the participation rate of disadvantaged 19-year olds in higher education has increased by 4.8 percentage points. Eliminating tuition fees and “dealing” with existing debts would be highly regressive, asking non-graduates to subsidise graduates who on average earn £9,500 p.a more. Scotland, which charges Scottish and EU students no fees, is bad for social mobility. Its advantaged to disadvantaged entry ratio is 3.5 compared to England’s 2.4.
Introducing a ceiling on fees has caused problems. Most universities are charging the ceiling, meaning there is no link between tuition fees and job prospects. Ministers should avoid retrospective measures that increase repayments for graduates, incentivise courses that link to areas with labour shortages and could examine whether interest rates on loans should be reduced. There is a need to redress intergenerational fairness, but abolishing tuition fees simply redistributes resources between lower earning non-graduates and higher earning graduates.