Moving beyond the sheer boredom induced by listening to the Coalition justify every policy on the basis of "clearing up the mess left by the last Government", - itself ironic considering Labour's emulation of right-wing policies that exacerbated the economic cataclysm - special attention was warranted this week by the release of the Browne report proposing a marketisation of universities - and calling in future for students themselves to pay for an unprecedentedly large chunk of the education they currently receive from the state.
The default argument trotted out by proponents of an increased levy on students is that those who go to university will, as a rule, earn more in their lifetime than those who do not and should therefore pay for the advantage. While the earnings argument holds water - on average graduates will earn more than those who do not attend university - it ignores the fact that many others will also earn more over the course of their lives - those who take over family businesses, inherit property, or just happen to live in more pleasant areas of the country - than those lacking these particular advantages, yet who may have prospered in the at least partially democratic area of educational achievement.
Proponents of the funding of universities via general taxation make the point that in the long term we all benefit from a highly educated workforce. The argument is a straightforward and convincing one: greater education equals greater productivity at work; greater productivity at work equals larger profits; larger profits equals greater growth.
Notwithstanding the increasingly outdated notion of education as a tool with which to learn about the world for its own sake (how radical is that!), the advocates of both arguments tend to view the education system as merely a conveyor belt for the next generation of pliant workers; and the post-financial crisis world offers a pretext with which to eat one's cake as well as have it; as Phil points out:
'we are now facing a situation whereby Under the Tory/LibDem-endorsed Browne report, capital will receive all of those benefits [from a well educated workforce] without having to pay for the cost - in effect, students will be picking up the tab and subsidising their future employers'.
Students already find themselves in a world where capital is calling for increasing productivity and "flexibility" so as to compete with the borderline slave-economies of the east; and in the immediate future it looks as if they will be required to pay back huge sums of money over the course of their working lives merely for the privilege of becoming skilled enough to work for somebody in the first place. Not to mention the fact that for many that have recently graduated there is little sign of the promised "good career" on the back of which tuition fees were originally introduced four years ago.
Much like the trashing of the universality principle in the benefits system, in reality, charging large sums of money to attend university is yet more free-market ideology masquerading as fairness.