Shouldn’t you be giving back to your university?

Reading many comments in response to the Browne Review, about which I am writing a more complex blog, I started to wonder where the balance lies between us paying for goods and services, having them provided for us through voluntary donations and having them provided through compulsory taxation.

This is quite a critical argument for Higher Education – after all, not everyone goes to University, yet to those people who want to they believe it should be free. But what about everyone who didn’t go? Are they happy that a proportion of the population should pay for it?

I think the Browne Review makes a lot of sensible suggestions, and in this context the one I pick up on is the fact that funding should continue to have a private contribution, which for HE can be linked to a clear benefit (higher income). My personal views are that state funding should largely support essential services which help everyone, including primary and secondary schools, the fire service and the police. University, though, is a choice. Once you turn 18 you enter the “real world”, usually completely unprepared for it, and you either land in a profession or you have an idea about what you want to do. University does, to a large extent, prepare you for a career but not necessarily a profession. An apprentice may be getting similar training but would be paying for it by virtue of a low income. There may be other sources of income but ultimately it gets paid for.

What started me out on this was that Browne introduces the idea of giving. If you have fully repaid your loan, and are still benefiting from your education, then consider giving more. Normally, charitable donations are given by people who can see a benefit to what is being done. You can easily understand that medical charities are so popular as nearly everyone can link an illness or passing of someone close to them to a particular cause, and in most cases there is a charity trying to prevent it. The problem is where you cannot see that link clearly.

I would love to live in a world where we had lower tax and people either paid more for a service they used or gave voluntarily to charity. The only problem is, we don’t have that culture in the UK. I give to the University of Birmingham because I see the value of HE and believe my money will make a difference. I also support music charities, because I have a passion for it, but I wouldn’t expect that to be paid by the State.

Music can also be supported by fees to concerts. You don’t actually quite know what you’re getting, but you can judge its value at the end. Here is where HE is no different. Where it is though, is the size of the investment. Think how much if would cost if you had to buy all of your CDs and pay for all of your gig tickets aged 18. Would it really be much different to the cost of going to University?

My point is this. Nothing is free and yet we live in a country where we expect it to be. The line between a public service and a private benefit is being influenced by what we expect to be funded, but forget ourselves when considering who is paying for it all. I admit, it is difficult to work out who is benefiting and by how much when you’re 18, but when you’re 40 or 50 you should be able to look back at your degree and work out where you would have been without it. If you gave that back to your university, we wouldn’t need as much public funding, and students wouldn’t have to pay for their education up front.

So, try to work out where you’d be if you hadn’t been to University, value it and give some of the difference back to your alma mater. You’ll be helping all taxpayers and students alike.

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