With the expansion in university numbers, there has been a divisive debate about how much students (and their families) should actually pay.
There are several arguments to suggest the government should provide university education free at the point of use, and make it available to everyone.
1. Greater Equality.
Free education enables everyone to have the opportunity of studying. It also avoids the complexity of means testing systems
2. University Education is a Merit Good.
People often underestimate the benefits of studying at university. This is exacerbated by the fact that the benefits of studying are a long time in the future. If people have to pay it will encourage people to leave education at 18 or 16.
3. Positive Externality of University Education.
University education gives benefits to the rest of society. For example, a qualified doctor helps treat other people. People with degrees can become teachers and impart knowledge. Therefore, the social benefit of universities are higher than private benefit. Therefore, in a free market university education will be underconsumed, because the free market ignores these positive externalities. This justifies the government providing it free at the point of use.
4. Difficulty of Finance
In the US, students often leave university with very significant debts. This creates financial stress from a very young age. In the UK, student debt is becoming an increasing problem. It forces many students to take part time jobs whilst studying. Student loans can be a disincentive to get a better paid job, because low paid jobs do not need to pay them back
See also: Why Students should pay to goto University