Axing tuition fees would help richest students 'at least twice as much' as poorest, analysis warns

Posted On: 
1st November 2018

Ending tuition fees would disproportionately benefit students from the wealthiest families over the least well-off, a major study has found.

The richest fifth would gain were tuition fees to be scrapped, says the IFS
Credit: 
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The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said people from the richest fifth of households would benefit "by more than twice as much as those from the poorest fifth" if fees were scrapped.

They said that was because students from richer households are more likely to go on to higher education and earn top salaries as graduates.

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Labour went into the 2017 election vowing to axe tuition fees, which currently see students pay up to £9,000 a year.

“Children from richer families are more than twice as likely to go to higher education and are likely to make higher graduate contributions if they do go," the report says.

“As a result, children from the richest quintile would benefit at least twice as much from the abolition of tuition fees as those from the poorest quintile, and probably by quite a bit more.”

The finding forms part of research which shows that changes brought in by the last Labour government tilted state spending on education further in favour of Britain's poorest pupils.

The IFS report said that while in 2003 there was already a £3,500 funding advantage for poorer pupils, this jumped to £9,500 by 2010 - with poorer kids receiving 20% more on average than their richer counterparts.

It added that “socio-economic gaps in higher education participation have fallen slightly over time, though these remain substantial”.

Luke Sibieta, co-author of the report and Research Fellow at IFS, said: “In less than a decade over the 2000s, education spending shifted from being skewed towards richer pupils to being skewed towards poorer pupils instead.

“This is a remarkable shift in the shape of public spending, with an increasing amount of redistribution taking place through public service spending.

“In more recent years, these changes will have been partly counterbalanced by reductions in welfare spending and children’s services.

“Nevertheless, the empirical evidence suggests that focusing more education spending on poorer pupils should lead to substantial improvements in their life chances.”

The research also demonstrates that reforms such as the pupil premium, brought in under the Coalition government, have benefited the least well-off.

Meanwhile, changes to post-16 education funding have tended to favour colleges, which poorer pupils are more likely to attend, rather than school sixth forms.