'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Monday, 22 August 2011

Tuition Fees. It's not just setting out the facts. The problem is getting anyone to listen.

Mark Thompson has written an excellent article this morning on Iain Dale's blog about myth busting and tuition fees. His basic argument is that if the proper facts were known about tuition fees and they had been properly communicated by both the government and the media, then a lot of concerns would have been allayed.

And he is probably right.

But may I suggest that another problem may lie at the root cause of people's unhappiness with the new system. Maybe it's not the communication - maybe they are just not listening. And this comes down to Behavioural Economics.

Behavioural economics has something of a bad name in political circles currently, ever since it was revealed that Steve Hilton was a fan and David Cameron has read 'Nudge'. However it is still very much of the moment in Adland , and we do know a thing or two over here about changing people's behaviour. Plus the Obama 2008 campaign used it extensively as well - so there's something to it...

In a nutshell to quote Thaler and Sunstein in 'Nudge, "classical economics invented the notion of ‘Homo economicus’, who “can think like Albert Einstein, store as much memory as IBM’s Big Blue, and exercise the willpower of Mahatma Gandhi. But the folks we know are not like that.Real people have trouble with long division if they don't have a calculator, sometimes forget their spouses birthday and have a hangover on New Years Day".

There's a longer summary here but really, that's what it's all about.

In other words, human beings don't necessarily act rationally, nor hear the facts - they often hear what they want to hear.

On tuition fees, they mostly heard words like betrayal of trust, broken promises and broken pledges, and increases across the board.

And so the 'facts' they picked up and which stuck will be the negative ones - like fees tripling.

This is nothing to do with logic. It is all to do with perception.

So we can now argue the facts until we are blue in the face. But until we change the perception, the fees argument will not turn.


  1. Shouldn't we be starting by admitting that the scheme in place is more like a graduate tax?

  2. I think you make an excellent point - I've blogged on this today . Thanks for pointing this out.