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Comment: Against tuition fees

If tuition fees were introduced into Denmark, it would go just like it has done in England, Hungary and everywhere else, argues Student Council chairman Gwen Gruner-Widding. Fewer students, and loan sharks prowling through campus

Inspite of my funky name I was born and bred in Denmark. With more than 15 different addresses behind me I have lived in several corners of this small state – and maybe also for that reason I found myself looking abroad for an untried zip-code. I found a Norwegian private school which I found especially interesting, and within a few days of Google-research I called my mother to tell her of this new idea. My mom, who is an American expat (Hence the funky name…) had one clear first reaction:

“We’ll never be able to afford that!”

Until that second, I have never been faced with the fact that my choice of education could be based on my, or rather my mothers, personal financial capability.

There are many things I love about Denmark. The long summer days, the even longer winter nights, and the fact that if you have a bicycle you can get almost anywhere. But few things make me as proud to be a part of this project called Denmark, as this basic value and principle of free access to education.

Bad practices

All across Europe we experience increases in tuition fees. From Hungary to the UK governments are using tuition fees as a way to compensate for the cuts made in education due to austerity measures. Or at least this is what they tell us. Reality is, that tuition fees don’t give us a better education, they don’t even keep the negative consequences of the austerity measures at bay.

In my eyes the worst case example is the one from England. Here governments have introduced tuition fees bit by bit. First GBP 1000 a year, then GBP 3000, then GBP 3200, and then last year they lifted the boundary to a rocket high GBP 9000 a year. That is a goddamn lot of money and it has already had clear consequences.

Wild and dangerous

The Guardian describes these consequences as ‘wild and dangerous swings’ in student numbers. Or put differently. There are fewer and fewer students attending higher education in England. Precisely 12 per cent fewer students applied for university this year. That is a lot, when you take into consideration that across Europe the numbers are the other way round, and that more and more prospective students are applying. The lower student numbers are the short term consequence. Another short term consequence is clear to student unions. Loan sharks have made their entrance on to the British campuses. The vice-chair of NUS-UK put it quite clearly:

“Students are struggling to make ends meet and this is having a real impact on their wellbeing and their education.”

I could not put it more clearly myself. As you might have guessed I was not only pissed off by, but also puzzled when the Danish MP Esben Lunde Larsen (V) and his companions from the opposition suggested that we introduce tuition fees in Denmark.

Luckily it only took 6 hours of students, stakeholders and government politicians’ verbal arguments before the spokesperson for Venstre decided to clarify that they had changed their mind. To keep it this way I would love to take Esben Lunde to the UK and show him the real life consequenses of tuition fees. Both the personal ones and the consequences to society.

There are few things I love as much as biking through Copenhagen in the middle of a light and warm summer night. The principle of tuition fee free education is one of these things.

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