BY DAVID SMITH
GERMANY• After experimenting with tuition fees, all the federal German states have been persuaded to reverse their decision. In the UK and US, there is no political will to change the policies which are blighting whole generations. The only way forward is to copy German protest movements.
The world’s fourth largest economy, Germany, has abolished all higher education tuition fees after flirting with the system for a few years. The contrast could not be greater with both the United States and the United Kingdom, which has largely aped the US model with potentially disastrous results.
In the US, tuition costs have risen 500% since 1985 and those who borrowed for a bachelor’s degree granted in 2012 owe an average of US$29,400. Some 40 million Americans are paying back US$1.2 trillion in outstanding student debt. US senator Elizabeth Warren, who is campaigning to lower fees, says the burden is stopping young Americans from buying homes and cars, or starting small businesses. Meanwhile, existing federal financial aid to students is poorly targeted, with half of federal tuition tax credits going to the wealthiest 20%.
In the UK, the problem of student debt could become even worse than in the US. The Tory Government introduced tuition fees of £9,000 (US$14,500) a year in 2012 and average debt levels per student are now expected to be £44,000 (US$71,000). Yet, the system is self-defeating as most of the debt may never even be paid off. The UK’s Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that nearly three quarters (73%) of today’s students will fail to clear their debts, and may only have them written off 30 years after graduating, by which time they could be in their mid 50s.
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