Contentious post about tuition fees

Systems thinking

Are people being denied loans to pay for tuition feed? Is it actually IMPOSSIBLE for people to go to university, or just expensive for them to?

When I went to university I found many people who didn’t really want to be there, gained little from the experience, were only really doing it because it was what was expected, and left with an undue sense of entitlement.

And now with opencourseware, iTunesU, and many other universities opening up their courses online, for free (not forgetting the pioneering Open University), it’s a wonder they had time to go and protest, let alone make placards and find balaclavas.

Meanwhile,, and a far more amusing version care of the Daily Mash: Britain backs middle class children who want the moon on a stick.

Ed Dowding

Ed Dowding

Founder, strategist, writer, gadfly, TED talker, world-record holder, and (foolishly) reality-TV farmer. DOES: Innovation, Product, Advocacy THINKS: Regenerative Systems, Institution design, 300 year horizons


  1. So where exactly did Google come from?
    Where exactly did computers come from?
    Where exactly did Aviation come from?

    From long-term research, in universities, a lot of which would fall outside the idea of “useful” nowadays.

    If you commercialise all undergrad courses, undergrads will do commercial degrees. That means fewer people doing work that contirbutes to long-term research, and thus big breakthroughs like the above.

    Do you think that research into logical reasoning looked “useful” before computers?

    Also, are you looking at what happens directly to research. Already research is being squeezed into shorter and narrower time-scales. The UK is slipping away from being a top research location because Phds are done in a rush and there is no real committment to the long-term pure research that underpins break-throughs, which tend, y their nature, to come from unexpected places.

    Sure, attack unearned priviledge that gives nothign back tot he community. Attack banking, that destroys wealth on net assessment, and is a much larger problem for everyone else. But Universities? They are one of the few sources of real wealth.

  2. I like the open University a lot Ed, but you can’t run all research through online teams. For teaching, yes, it is often a good option, but we need research too, and that is being excluded from the current debate.

    I wish that Universities did face to face teaching, online teaching and research better, but education is not a priority for UK Gov, they (labour and conservative) spend less than Sweden, by %age of GDP, and a fraction of the US. We have a good system by momentum only, and are on the way to trashing it.

    Why does the US put 2.9% of GDP into Universities? Think about it, they understand power.

  3. To be clear, I’m not against funding, universities, or people attending universities. I think more (money in) long term thinking, research, and development of people and ideas is critical to a civilisation.

    However I’m not clear why it’s important that everyone attending these thinks it should be free. I wouldn’t deny anyone from benefiting from it, but I’m not clear on what’s wrong with asking people to contribute to their own development.

    This isn’t the NHS.

  4. Hi ed! I had to contribute here, seeing as I was at the march and am a full time student now – and that I take a keen interest in your posts!….for me and many others I was marching with, it is not about wanting education to be free. Everyone appreciates personal investment is required for our own futures – it is this huge gap between the classes that can only be bridged through education (in my opinion) and by putting the fees UP will only deter those less able to cope with financial pressure, thus, further education becomes an elite of the middle and upper classes, which surely is not desireable?

  5. I’m sure you don’t mean to confuse class with income. There is a profound difference, and one we should remember lest this debate become hijacked by people who see it as a class issue and write anachronistic slogans like “Tory scum” about policies brought in by a coalition government.

    a) Isn’t the point of the loans to remove the financial pressure?

    b) Do a part-time course

    I’m well aware I may well be very uninformed on this issue, but I’ve not yet heard or found any evidence of a keen student being denied the facility to go to university.

  6. At present, the government uses a class system based on jobs – so it is inevitable that it will reflect income. There are undeniable patterns with income and opportunity and it is this pattern I personally would like to see broken considerably.

    To leave university with debts as high as £30k before you have accounted for living costs is no way of alleviating financial pressure?

    The opportunity to go to university is technically there for everyone, but what are the chances of being Priminister if you didnt go to Eton? I quote: ‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’.

  7. OK lets say instead of going to University I choose to start up a business. I get a £30k loan from the bank. The business fails. Should that loan be written off because that was a really useful education for me? Otherwise what kind of message are we sending by shackling our entrepreneurial young with £30k of debt?

  8. I do agree with your point and wish more people would adopt this attitude, take thier own innitiative and make things happen for themselves. But you cant expect everyone to be an entrepreneur?

    It is clear that there are financial issues in our educational system that need addressing but raising the fees is a solution that isnt focusing on the bigger picture and is a potentially disastrous quick fix…

  9. Before any reinvention of the university system, it certainly needs to be acknowledged by employers…. seeing as the majority of us students are all doing this for them. If there were other realistic options right now, im pretty sure there would be people queing up. But are you really suggesting the government have a revolutionary good idea for its public?

    Where do I sign for this?

  10. I’m suggesting that the public has an opportunity to create a revolutionary good idea based on resources already given to it by the governments of the world.

    To wit, start a university.

    This is the age of self-organisation.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.