Theresa May’s former chief of staff has slammed university tuition fees as a “pointless Ponzi scheme”, calling for “radical” change to the system.
Speaking on A Level results day, when thousands of teenagers will find out if they have been accepted into university, Nick Timothy said tuition fee debt was “blighting young people’s futures”.
After the coalition government radically increased tuition fees to £9,000 in 2010 - sparking riots - the Tories further increased university costs this year, with students set to be charged £9,250 from September.
A recent study by the IFS found that the poorest students are now left £57,000 of debt, with many university leavers unlikely to ever be able pay their loans back.
According to Timothy - who resigned as May’s chief of staff following the Tories’ disastrous election result - graduates are seeing poor returns on their investment in education.
Not only are many university-leavers earning the same amount they would have had they not done a degree, he said, but they are left with a “millstone” of debt around their necks.
Writing in his Telegraph column, he said: “The fortunate among them – those studying at the best universities and taking the best courses – may go on to prosper.
“But those who choose the wrong institutions and courses will see little benefit, while those who do not go to university – still a majority of young people – will be neglected.”
Timothy continued: “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 their full debts, graduates face dramatic increases in marginal tax rates as their earnings increase.”
According to UCAS’ initial figures, the number of students accepted onto UK degree courses has dropped by 2% since last year.
Instead of the current tuition fee system, students should be given a “single financial entitlement” which they could spend on technical courses or university, he said, thereby forcing institutions to “compete on price”.
Speaking on Radio 4′s Today programme, universities minister Jo Johnson said the cost of university must be looked at in the context “of the benefits that students are going to realise over their working lifetimes and also the general public is going to have for having a more highly educated workforce.”
“Universities continue to deliver extraordinary returns for people who go,” he said. “On average, if you’re a woman your likely to have higher lifetime earnings than women who ho don’t go to the tune of about £250,000.”
The pair’s comments come on the first results day after Michael Gove’s radical changes to A Levels were introduced.
Not only are final exams now favoured over modular tests and coursework, but AS-levels have also been separated to form standalone qualifications.
Some school leaders have criticised the decision, saying the reform has “sounded the death knell” for AS qualifications.