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The free market has liberated hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty and helped to advance our technology enormously. However there should be clear limits to which public services it is applied to. While the free market generally has a positive effect, I don’t believe that as a Tory I should want to apply it blindly to everything.
The university system is not comparable to other public services where the free market principle can work very well. Many people have little choice of where they can go to university. For various personal or financial reasons there may be a strong need for them to stay in their local area. Others for instance want to live away from home but also want to go to the same university as their boyfriend or girlfriend thus limiting the choices of suitable universities.
The second reason why the university system is not comparable is that unlike most government services it is not free for the user. By providing different providers (the universities) and different prices (the tuition fees) you will inevitably push the less affluent in society towards the worse universities because they are cheaper. The theoretical extra gain of going to a notionally better university will not be worth the risk unless your from a better off family where £9000 is not an enormous sum of money. The extra funding and free tuition only applies to the very poorest. It does not create real social mobility and hurts those from relatively poor families the most. Rather than provide a good quality degree that will be valued by employers at the cheapest cost universities are seeing £9000 tuition fees as a badge of quality that they must obtain.
By charging an extra £2000-3000 more than necessary to provide a good degree a university merely increases the help students receive. This reduces value of a degree in terms of self help and individual ability. The difference in future income will not be worth paying an extra £3000 per year for, especially for those on humanities courses.
The university system does need to be significantly changed. Rather than funding cuts of 80% the cuts should be in line with most other government departments, up to around 40%. It is fair the taxpayer funds the whole education system in order to provide real social mobility. As a compassionate Conservative I believe that wealth inequality is natural. However this is only fair if those in need are looked after and if every effort is made to give everyone a good start in life. This is up to the point they enter the job market not when they leave school.
People should be encouraged to go local universities when possible. This would require more effort by universities to make sure that students living at home can have most of the social opportunities as those living in halls. While it has disadvantages it would save thousands of pounds in accommodation costs and therefore significantly reduce student debt.
I think the government should fund professional apprenticeships and use the money saved to provide free tuition to those who need to go to university for the jobs that you can’t qualify for through a professional apprenticeship. My father was from a working class background and spent four years doing an accountancy apprenticeship. He worked part time and studied part time with a company, qualifying as a Chartered Accountant without any debt. The vast majority of people seeking to become a chartered accountant will soon leave university with £40,000+ of debt and still need to be trained for an extra year to be fully qualified. Proper government funding of the modern professional apprenticeships that exist would not only be cheaper for the government than paying student grants and other costs, it would also provide much more social mobility.
I do not like the principle of tuition fees, they are against the principle of meritocracy that is key to why I am a Conservative. Instead of improving our secondary education system and funding both professional and technical apprenticeships the government is reinforcing a system that means you must go to university to have a high chance of getting a well paid job in the future. By doing this they are creating a generation of people who will start adult life with a massive debt. To make matters worse they are introducing the free market to sector that is not suited to it and this will favour those from wealthier backgrounds.