With tuition based on quality, college students in Britain may get exactly what they pay for

Only fair.
Only fair.
Image: Reuters/Eddie Keogh
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As part of a massive education improvement plan (pdf) announced Monday (May 16), the British government is proposing an unusual, but not unworkable, idea: make college more like any other consumer product.

The UK wants to let some universities charge more for tuition than others based on the quality of its teaching. So if a school’s quality of teaching is deemed high enough, it would be allowed to charge a fee above the current £9,000 ($12,900) cap. Such a policy would ideally encourage competition among schools—and lead to better consumer value for students.

It also means newer colleges that offer high-quality experiences but aren’t as firmly planted in the country’s higher-education landscape as, say, Oxford or Cambridge, could point to outside, supposedly objective criteria as a reason to charge students as much as them—or even more.

“We want a globally competitive market that supports diversity, where anyone who demonstrates they have the potential to offer excellent teaching and clears our high quality bar can compete on a level playing field,” the proposal, presented by UK universities minister Jo Johnson, specifically notes.

This is the first time Britain has ever considered linking teaching standards to tuition rates, though the idea has been floated by college leaders in the past.

Of course, the quality-based pricing model is not without its critics, who worry that it’d lead to an increase in student debt—no doubt looking at America’s unfortunate situation as an ominous example.