Queens Crown at State Opening of Parliament and a Freddo
Image: © Eddie Mulholland / AP/Press Association Images / Cadbury

The UK’s government wants to link tuition fees to inflation, but what does that mean?

Today Queen Elizabeth II will announce plans that might make students feel like they're at the receiving end of yet more debt. It seems like it's not just Freddos that will get more expensive

Today in the UK, a whole bunch of new laws the current government wants to get created over the next year are announced in red and gold by the country’s head of state, The Queen, (yes, the Queen actually gets the final say on laws in the UK, but that’s a whole other story) and once again she's talking about the cost of higher education.

Tuition fees are back on the agenda. This time the government wants certain universities to be able to increase fees beyond the current annual £9,000 fee that was introduced in the last government (a whopping increase from the previous £3,000 per year). This doesn’t mean that the underlying cost of education is necessarily getting higher, but rather that the government feels the student, rather than the taxpayer, should be footing the bill for their education.

Ironic timing since yesterday it was revealed that the current Chancellor (the person that gets to play with all the government budgets) George Osborne, once upon a time wrote a letter promoting Conservative plans to scrap tuition fees.

The rise this time is linked to . So what might that mean? What’s inflation, and how high can it go? On hearing that the government wants to raise fees again, your first thought might be “Whhhaaaaaaaa?”

But in reality, linking fees to inflation might not be a ridiculous idea. The general principle of inflation is that as the price of things increases, the value of the money you’re holding in your hand decreases (your 50p can now only buy two Freddos not five like it could 15 years ago). So if the price of things in general is increasing (inflation) but the cost of tuition fees stays the same, in reality the university will actually be receiving less money (the £9,000 it gets will be able to buy less thanks to rising costs of the things it needs to buy).


Freddo Tree
Inflation: Money doesn't grow on trees, but Freddos do grow in price!

So while it might seem like bad news at first as you see the numerical figure of the fees might increase, under these plans their real cost probably won't. We will have to wait and see the full details for a more accurate picture of exactly how any rises are calculated, since inflation is always an estimate, there's always the chance that somebody will be out of pocket.

That’s not all the government appears to be planning for education, however. There are also rumors that it wants to allow a new ‘private sector’ in higher education, applying a sort of ‘free market’ system that the government believes will actually reduce tuition fees. Once again, this is based on a political ideology that says education is more of a private than a public good.

Sorana Vieru, National Union of Students (NUS) vice president for higher education, raises concerns that such institutions "are not established and might not have the proper support in place for students."

At the moment these are just plans announced for the year ahead, and the laws have to make it through parliament yet, though with potential reform of the House of Lords, the government hopes to make that a plainer sail.

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