Thursday, 15 July 2010

So, Students, this is fairness?

The proposition on the table is a graduate tax. You will get your way paid for you, no word yet on whether you'll be able to keep your student loan but the likelihood is that you will. Once you've finished you will then start to pay for your education and others' through a set percentage payment of your income based on your income level once you have broke through a certain threshold. You will pay it for a certain amount of time, either years from graduation or years from gaining employment perhaps. You may end up paying less than you used or more than you used, dependent on earnings and time in employment.

What we have now is a top up fee's system. You get your way paid for you, you have a student loan. Once you've finished university you will then start to pay for your education through a set percentage payment of your income once you have broke through a certain threshold. You will pay it for a certain amount of time from graduation. You will either pay less than you used or exactly what you used, dependent on earnings and time in employment.

Please, can someone tell me what the difference is going to be to any graduate whether you call this a graduate tax or top up fees that makes the plan a "bold" and "radical" one?

What we have here is a Lib Dem minister essentially repackaging top-up fees and selling it as something newer, and better. Forgive me if I don't agree.

By introducing a variable element to the percentage payable per month, removing the limit of how much students will be able to pay, and removing those that flunked out of university from the need to pay for the time they spent there, Vince hasn't suggested something that changes the landscape of funding for education at all...he's just tinkering at the sides.

So successful graduates will pay more, they'll pay for those that are unsuccessful. For example, the burden of all those students who go in to art and other low paid areas of work, work that still required the time and benefit from the expertise of their peers during university, are now not to be shared amongst the whole of society but solely by those that go in to conventional and traditional well paid graduate jobs.

Universities have been saying they need to put fee's up to £5k to stop cuts in staffing and to stay afloat, and with roughly around 500k undergraduates in the country that is an extra £1bn that needs to be found. If we did remain with the same system of top up fees that has never disadvantaged the disadvantaged then a tax rise of 0.5% on those earning above the upper tax limit would cover those debts. Want to tax the successful to pay for the poor and unaccomplished coming out of the HE system? Well tax ALL the successful then. What exactly is the problem of spreading the burden?

There's no fairness to be found here in these tax changes, not unless you narrowly look at the relatively small changes in how lower level earning graduate will pay less towards HE each year than a higher level earning graduate....while potentially paying more than they would have under a loans system over the course of their lifetime. Not unless you particularly think it's fair to remove someone that has abused their time at university, to have a good time and nothing more, from paying for their place in totality.

The graduate tax idea is a long cry from the Lib Dem party policy that suggested a shift of the burden from students to fill the funding gap through fees and on to the general public (or perhaps businesses), Cable has U-Turned spectacularly. No longer campaigning for a fairness for students, perhaps recognising the economic and social good that students bring whether successful or not; he is now suggesting policies that make HE a commodity, that say to students that you can have your education but it's your burden now, don't expect those of us gaining from your endeavors to put anything more in to investing in what ultimately makes us all better off.

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