Thursday, October 21, 2010

Student fees and transatlantic misunderstandings

Lord Browne's review of university funding dominates the thoughts of many people at the moment, not least this household. This entry won't be about citizenship or immigration but about student fees in order to address the incredible misunderstandings upon which politicians are making transatlantic comparisons at the moment.

The review proposes raising university fees substantially, throwing in the possibility of unlimited fees. Many politicians draw parallels to the American system, where well-known, top-class universities like Harvard charge upwards of $50,000 a year. Yet such comparisons are generally hollow without a deeper understanding of the American private university system.

While Harvard's pricetag may be $50,000 a year, it is a heavily endowed university committed to removing financial barriers for students good enough to be accepted. It offers means-tested grants that can make the education nearly free for students coming from families with incomes under $60,000 a year. In fact, at Yale, students coming from such income backgrounds were expected on average to contribute about $2,600 a year - including room and board. At Harvard, nearly 70 per cent of students receive aid, and the other 30 per cent would be from families with incomes over $120,000 per year.

Private American universities are able to provide such levels of grants through substantial endowments. During the 2010-11 year alone, Harvard anticipates giving out $158 million in need-based assistance. British universities cannot even begin to match such levels of private holdings to subsidize education.

At the other end of the spectrum, America also has a system of junior colleges that can cost as little as $150 a term and give a qualification equivalent to half of a bachelor's degree, after which the recipient can transfer to a full-fledged university to complete his/her education. This offers a good option for students whose families do not have enough money to pay for a four-year degree and whose grades are not competitive enough to draw a merit-based scholarship from a well-ranked university.

Without such alternatives in place, Britain's discussions of such fast, possibly uncapped, fee rises are ridiculous. Why would a top-calibre student choose to study at a good UK university in the face of high fees if s/he could gain a place at an American university and pay less?

There is one other problem that needs to be addressed. The review says that the funding structure of the universities is unsustainable and that the students must contribute more to their education. On the surface, this is somewhat understandable, though there are logical fallacies that were pointed out in the previous blog post. Now, however, it emerges that Osborne is proposing 80% cuts to government funding for universities, essentially shifting the burden of education from the government to the students. Yet students will - reasonably, it would seem - expect higher standards if they're going to pay twice as much, standards that it will be impossible to meet because the departments will have the same budget as they do now, simply a different source of income. Raising student fees cannot be seen as an alternative to government investment, and there can be no doubt that it will hit the poorest the hardest.

Are we really all in it together?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Logical fallacies of visa fee rises

The government appear to be applying the same logical fallacies to justifications of visa fee rises as justifications for limitless university fees. The argument goes something like this:

Thesis 1: Immigration costs the UK money. It is unfair for the taxpayer to have to bear this burden. Therefore, the immigrants should bear the costs.

Thesis 2: Immigrants receive benefits from immigration in the form of higher wages/better standard of life/etc. They would not have access to these positives if they didn't come to the UK. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect them to pay for their access to higher wages.

Thesis 3: It is justifiable to recoup more than just the administrative costs from immigrants because they benefit so much from their status in the UK. Those who remain long-term will have access to more than contributory benefits. Therefore, it is justifiable to charge a large amount up-front for settlement status because the immigrant will receive that much benefit from his/her immigration status over the duration of his/her residency.

The logical fallacies are these:
1. Immigration pays for the UK economy.

2. Immigrants on limited visas are not allowed to access any benefits they haven't payed into.

3. Immigrants have a higher average per-capita income than Brits, and they pay more taxes per-capita than Brits while not being allowed to claim tax credits, housing benefit, etc. They are only allowed to stay in the UK as long as they are net contributors.

4. The biggest fallacy is that the equation fails to take into account the immigrants' contributions to the UK. Really, the UK should be paying highly skilled migrants to come, as the UK will reap far more benefits than the individual immigrant.

This is the same fallacy that is applied to the arguments to raise tuition fees: the average graduate earns £100k more over his/her lifetime than a non-graduate; therefore, he/she should be willing to pay more for a degree. This leaves out the fact that if the average graduate earns more, he/she also pays more taxes as well as repaying the loans. An average earner will pay £45k in loans (with interest) as well as paying taxes, which pretty much negates the benefit from getting a degree in the first place. Furthermore, the calculation leaves out the fact that graduates are - generally - easier to retrain into other jobs in response to economic shifts, which means fewer people claiming benefits. Now why is it that students and immigrants should bear this burden?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Unjust fee changes for UK visas

The UKBA is proposing fee increases that represent a violation of constitutional rights of British citizens as well as an unjust hardship on many families. We need to educate and act on the information in this petition. Please circulate it as widely as possible.

On 9 September, the UK Borders Agency published a notice of mid-year visa and naturalisation fee increases, proposed to come into effect at the beginning of October and November 2010. This is in addition to the fee increases that were already brought in on 1 April 2010. The proposed fee levels represent a breach of the human rights of British citizens and put the UK in contravention of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, of which the UK is a signatory.

Article 16 of the Declaration states, ‘Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution…The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.’ The fee levels combined with the pre-entry English language tests present a direct impediment to family life.

In April, the government raised the cost of settlement permits to £840 from £820; now it proposes to raise the fees another £60 to £900. This does not include the £34 fee for the Knowledge of Life in the UK Test – more if one doesn’t pass the first time – or the £9.99-£17.50 for the official study guides without which one cannot hope to pass the test, as it does not actually contain questions and answers one would know through everyday life in the UK.

I am the non-EU wife of a British citizen. I have brought £130,000 into the UK economy from other countries in the past four years. Yet the UK government has the audacity to justify the fee increases on the grounds that I am burden to the taxpayer.

While the UK government has the right to control labour migration, it does not have the right to prevent family reunification or to interfere with its citizens’ right to marry anyone without regard for nationality. Such high fee levels cannot be anything but an impediment to family life, yet we have no option but to pay them because my visa will expire, so we have to pay whatever the government demands.

The application process is a further violation of citizens’ right to freedom of movement. When I applied for my first spousal visa, we had to send both my husband’s and my passports to the UKBA. They kept the passports and our marriage certificate for the entire three-month processing period, which meant neither of us could leave the country. Should a family emergency have arisen, I could have withdrawn my application and received my passport back, but I would immediately have become an illegal immigrant, would have forfeited the entire visa fee, and would have had to re-apply from outside the UK, during which indefinite period of time my husband and I would have been separated. Now my application for settlement is looming, and I have only a 95 per cent guarantee that the UKBA will be able to process my application within six months, which means again being entirely without identity papers or the right to travel.

In 2009, applications for children, husbands and wives to settle with their family members in the UK made up 69 per cent of settlement grants. Of the spouses, 87.5 per cent were married to British citizens. This means that the proposed measures overwhelmingly affect the rights of British citizens to family life without interference from the state. I cannot do more than express my extreme outrage and beg people to campaign to their MPs to block this measure when it is submitted for parliamentary approval in the coming weeks.

To sign the petition, please go to: