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What Price Education?

Right now the British Government is in big trouble.

Pretty well half of Tony Blair's normally loyal party legislators are against him. All the opposition parties are opposing hard. And a vocal scream of protest is coming from all over the land.

But when I tell what it's about, you'll scratch your heads in disbelief.

The British Government wants to increase the fee charged to university students to help pay the cost of teaching them. It's not a fortune – up from just under two thousand dollars a year at the moment to just over five thousand – but the decision has caused an outcry.

From the hard working halls of Harvard and Yale I can almost hear howls of derisive laughter. Only five thousand a year? Yes, here in Britain, getting a university education has always been heavily subsidised by the state. So much so that British students frequently take what they call a "gap year" and wander the world at leisure without a thought of earning an honest buck to help pay for it. Our student population is not as feather-bedded as it once was – we even used to give them state grants, a couple of thousand bucks a year as a living allowance, most of which used to go on alcohol -- nowadays, we make them borrow the money instead, interest-free. But they'll only have to pay up once they finally graduate and get a decently paid job. So it's arguably a great incentive NOT to get a decently paid job for a while.

This British row probably wouldn't have erupted with such fury if Tony Blair hadn't been so determined to get 50 per cent of young people into university - a wildly ambitious target with equally wild side effects. Large numbers of new universities have created all sorts of second-rate courses devised to lure students in.

Once you had to work darned hard to win a place. Now universities are falling over themselves to give you one.

It doesn't add up unless students and parents foot the bills. But tell that to the protesting students. Tell that to Tony Blair's legislators who are trying to sabotage the whole idea. It ought to be free, they cry. And – I almost forgot - when Mr Blair graduated from Oxford all those years ago, it was!

By Ed Boyle