Tuition fees are a 'pointless Ponzi scheme', says PM's former top aide Nick Timothy

Written by Agnes Chambre on 18 August 2017 in News

Timothy also suggested governments have been “mistaken” in encouraging people to go to university

Nick Timothy - Image credit: PA Images

University fees are a “pointless Ponzi scheme”, the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff said as he called for a radical rethink on higher education in England. 

Nick Timothy also attacked the “university gravy train”, under which vice-chancellors are paid up to £451,000 a year.

Timothy said successive governments have been “mistaken”, as encouraging people to go to university does not necessarily promote economic growth.

The former adviser, who quit Downing Street along with fellow joint chief of staff Fiona Hill after the general election, called for more sub-degree technical qualifications that would be shorter and cheaper than a full degree.

Timothy pointed to the number of graduates in non-graduate jobs and said “certain degree subjects offer no return on investment, while studies show there are entire universities where average graduate earnings 10 years after study are less than those of non‑graduates”.

He wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “Tuition fees were supposed to make university funding fairer for the taxpayer, but more than three quarters of graduates will never pay back their debts.

“The Office for Budget Responsibility calculates that student loans will add 11.1 per cent of GDP to the national debt by the late 2030s.

“We have created an unsustainable and ultimately pointless Ponzi scheme, and young people know it.

“With average debts of £50,000, graduates in England are the most indebted in the developed world.

“Even if they do not pay off the full amount, graduates face dramatic increases in marginal tax rates as their earnings increase.”

Ministers have been under pressure to take action on the soaring levels of graduate debt in England, as tuition fees rise above £9,000 for the first time and grants for poorer students are replaced by loans.

Labour has been pressing the UK Government on the cost of higher education after its election pledge to abolish tuition fees.

Timothy also mused:  “On a recent visit to the barber, the young man who cut my hair told me he had graduated from Southampton Solent University with a degree in football studies.

“He was friendly, articulate and skilled in his profession, but I doubted whether he thought his qualification was worth the debt he will carry as a millstone around his neck for 30 years.

He added: “Well-paid vice chancellors will protest, but the gravy train exposed by Lord Adonis, the architect of tuition fees, must be stopped.

“Universities might be independent organisations, but many are charities that have lost sight of their charitable purpose.

“And they are wholly dependent on financial arrangements that are set by the Government, underwritten by the taxpayer, and blight young people’s futures.”

Scottish and EU students do not pay tuition fees to go to Scottish universities, but many do still incur debt in the form of student loans to fund their living expenses.

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