Richard Garner: Students will lose all confidence about future earnings

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Today's graduate unemployment figures pose an awkward dilemma for the Coalition Government. It is this: will students be prepared to fork out much higher payments for tuition fees if their chances of obtaining well-paid employment are diminished by today's harsh economic climate?

Ministers are said to be considering raising the cap on university fees to as much as £9,000 a year. The economic arguments are strong: if the proposed cuts to teaching budgets go ahead, it will be necessary to charge around £8,000 a year just to provide the same standard of teaching as they do now. Obviously, with such a major increase in fees, students will hope to get better standards.

The Government has defended its strategy by emphasising that the average graduate can still earn as much as £100,000 extra during their lifetime as a result of their university qualification.

Today's figures showing one in three of those who left university in 2009 were either unemployed or in a stop-gap job which did not need a university degree will make many potential students wonder whether they will be able to achieve those financial rewards.

Of course, it is worth pointing out that they will not have to repay their fees – under the proposals set out by Lord Browne – until they earn £21,000 a year. There lies the rub, though. If fewer students are paying their fees back, the pressure on university finances will grow.

It shows that the Government's strategy on university finance is a huge gamble.

Only time will tell whether it has been a successful one.

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