Home Comment Exeposé on the Tuition Fees Debate with Tweets

Exeposé on the Tuition Fees Debate with Tweets


Exeposé Comment review yesterday’s eagerly anticipated debate with a little help from our Twitter army. The motion was “This house believes that tuition fees should not increase”. Scroll down to the end to watch the whole debate.

With the Vice Chancellor Sir Steve Smith and the President of the NUS Toni Pearce agreeing to take part in the debate, this was always going to attract a large audience.


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For the proposition, Toni Pearce kicked off proceedings arguing that students and student unions need to come together to challenge the ‘sticker price’ of £9000. The amount of £9000 was only meant to be for a few institutions but in reality this was a lot more. She went on to say that 60% of parents believe degrees are no longer worth the money. Her other main point was that the extent of competition between universities is to the detriment of collaboration.

Pearce also went on to say that the UK is the third most expensive place to study for international students. She concluded her opening speech by saying raising the cap on fees would be good for nobody.

  It was then time to listen to Sir Steve Smith, who would have to give an extremely good speech if he was going to win around the audience. He opened by stating that there is a strong possibility that fees will have to rise in the future.

He went on to argue that the University of Exeter must remain a world class institution. Acknowledging that tuition fees had been free in the past, he said that this still had a cost. This was in the form of much higher rates of taxation. The starting rate of income tax was 35% rising to 98% compared to the starting rate of 10% we have at the moment.


Last year 49% of income for the University of Exeter came from student fees with grants making up just 16%. In 2005 21% came from fees with the grants made up a hefty 38%. Smith went on to remind the audience that no fees were paid up front and that only graduates pay fees. He pointed out that despite the increase in fees, applications for this University rose by 52%. He concluded by saying that universities must be competitive and it was unrealistic to believe this can be funded from the public purse.



It was then on to questions. The first was based around the fact that arts students subsidise science students. Sir Steve said that the sciences probably get £500 per student from humanities and social sciences. Pearce went on to point out that arts students are less likely to repay their fees despite the science “subsidy”.


Sir Steve announced that his current salary is £290,000 and he has turned down pay rises in three out of the last five years it was offered.

The next question asked was whether either panelist could envisage a government changing the terms and conditions of loan repayments meaning that interest rates could rise. Smith quickly replied with the answer “Yes”. He went on to say that it was vital that students who had taken out loans do not have their terms altered. He said the University’s position in discussions with government is that the terms of existing student loans must not change.

Pearce pointed out that loans are not being repayed as much as the government anticipated leaving a “black hole”. This was down to a lack of graduate jobs. If tuition fees go up, that does not necessarily mean wages will go up to correspond.

The debate then moved on to whether the higher education system was elitist. Pearce said that we should stop being so elitist about University and A Levels. Measures of the economy improve as education improves. Sir Steve argued there was a class system between Universities and Polytechnics 30 years ago and it remains today. “Black minority and state school pupils are two of the groups who seem to be missing out under the current system” he added.


The next big question was whether the recent strikes could be justified. Sir Steve said no. Striking staff have a genuine grievance with a national issue. We offered a local pay deal, just for this university but we’re in a sector where a lot of institutions say they can’t. Pearce supports trade union members who stick with collective bargaining. She believed the strike was justified when people are only receiving a 1% pay rise.

For some, there were more important issues:


It was then time for the closing speeches.

Pearce argued education shouldn’t be like going shopping, it’s something you participate in. The huge ranges of students being put off going to university is a real problem. She went on to say that there were other challenges for institutions with a massive crisis for post-graduate funding. There is no student finance or support system for that.

  On the issue of post-graduate funding Smith totally agreed pointing out Exeter’s second largest bursary spend is on postgraduate study. You have to envisage what the alternative is to fees not going up at some point. If we do not raise fees in the absence of other funding resources – at some point we’ll be down by 17/1800 quid.


  Sir Steve Smith managed to win round a lot of the audience by the end.



So there we have it. A bunch of students, with some paying as little as £3500 vote that students in the future should have to pay more. Well isn’t that nice!



David Reynolds

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