Many people think that the reason for students paying for their education is to avoid government debt. But this is not the real driver and never was. JP Morgan Director Blair, expanded the student population and at the same time forced them all into debt. This was neither an educational programme nor a social mobility programme but part of the ongoing process of the "financialising" all of our citizens lives burdening them with grinding debt that can be securitised so transferring wealth from working people to the superrich.
But there is a further major aspect to student loans that has to be emphasised. Financing higher education through student loans means that the government effectively abrogates any responsibility to direct education into areas where is it likely to be needed and away from those where it is not. If it is the state that invests in higher education then it has an interest in making sure that its investment will result in good employment for the graduates so that it can recoup the investment through taxation. With the individual funding their own education this direct line between investment and return does not exist. The state simply washes its hands of the matter.
Also universities are forced to design their courses to attract students and increase their income. Long term interests of the nation are therefore not a part either of the students' or the universities' calculations as to the choice of subjects and syllabuses. While it is desirable for the universities to have a good degree of independence they should not be forced to have to make choices simply to increase student intake. If they are then those courses are likely to be ill-conceived in relation to their likely usefulness.
As an example to illustrate this, I can cite my own profession of architecture. A few years ago there was a glut of students doing architecture. There were fees at the time but they were affordable for many. Architecture was popular amoung the young as a future career and so the universities provided a lot more places in order to collect lots of fees. This increase was quite unrelated to the demand for architects in the profession and so a glut of recently qualified graduates was produced and many could not find jobs. This meant they could not advance their experience and in many cases the resulting big "hole" in their CV meant that their career was in ruins before they started. As they aged employers would take the more recently qualified and they could be left "on the shelf".
Now the situation is the reverse whereby not enough are studying architecture, especially because it is a five year course and so you emerge with huge debts. Coupled with this is the thought that if you do no complete the five years (many don't) you will have incurred a debt for nothing.
This argument has no traction with any of the main parties. It is just part of the competitive market for them. The waste of lives and resources does not enter into their thinking.
The proposal, I put forward here, that the state must see education as an investment in the nation is not in any way radical. It used to be received opinion. The Conservatives started to reverse policy under Thatcher but it was with the demand for securitised debt in the 1990s that began the big spur to more and more student debt. Since then, it has ballooned unstoppably as the financial markets have cried out for more and more financialisation of every aspect of our lives. Their servants in politics have contrived to deliver exactly what they want. Regardless.