University Fees: Cui bono? (Who benefits?)

Sunday, December 12, 2010
Who are the real winners re the new University fees and funding arrangements, compared to, say, an income-tax based system of funding on which graduates are funded from general taxation (like we used to have)?

As the Ancient Romans used to ask: "Cui bono?" or "Who benefits?" Here's Cicero:

The famous Lucius Cassius, whom the Roman people used to regard as a very honest and wise judge, was in the habit of asking, time and again, 'To whose benefit?'

My suggestions, in this case, are:

(1) The banks who will be administering the complex loan system and making money from the huge debts graduates will accumulate at the start of their careers. These banks will have been talking behind the scenes with Govt. Ministers about how precisely they'll do this and what profits they might expect to make.

(ii) The very rich. When things are funded by general taxation, the rich pay more. When they are funded by fees and loans, they pay very much less. The bulk of the cost is pushed downwards towards the middle classes.

(iii) The upper middle classes, whose children, while already having a marked advantage in terms of university admission because they have been privately educated and primed for Oxbridge, will now face far less stiff competition for places at those elite universities (because the plebs will have been put off by the fees and debt). I imagine the parents of little Gideons and Lucindas up and down the country are currently rubbing their hands with glee at the massive boost their offspring's life chances have just received c/o posh boys Cameron, Osborne and Clegg.

The losers would seem to be everyone else, or rather, our children. Am I wrong?

As Cicero realized, sometimes, when you really want to understand what people are up to and why, you do better not to listen to their various arguments and rhetoric but simply to ask: "Cui bono?"