Vincent Cable’s announcement today that he is considering – and that should be emphasised here, that he is ‘considering’ – a new Graduate Tax to fund Higher Education would go someway in re-balancing the current unfair system whereby students pay hefty fees upfront with no guarantee that their degree will lead to greater, and better paid, job prospects in the future.
The idea of a tax to repay fees is essentially what happens now, whereby you pay back your student loan once you earn above £15,000pa. However, the disparity within the current system is that regardless of your income you still pay back the same amount. Therefore, an individual earning £15,500pa will pay the same as an individual who earns £50,000. Under a Graduate Tax system, you could still have a threshold of £15,000 but the amount an individual pays in tax could operate on a sliding scale. So an individual earning £50,000 will pay a higher Graduate Tax than an individual who earns just above the threshold on £15,500. The Tax would then continue to be paid until the individuals cost of tuition has been paid off – although this latter point has not been clearly explained yet, and it seems there are some suggesting the Graduate Tax could end up with students paying beyond the cost of their tuition, something which is simply unfair.
Beyond the ins and outs of the proposed Graduate Tax, two attached point deserve greater attention and should be courting greater concern. Firstly, is the suggestion that rates of tax could differ according to which institutions an individual graduated from. This would only re-inforce the already entrenched class bias within our University system where three tiers of ‘respect’ or ‘prestige’ exist; Oxbridge, Redbrick, and old polytechnic. This imbalamnce needs to be re-addressed and there needs to be wider acknowledgement that a University education desreves equal merit whether it be from Oxbridge or one of the ‘new’ Universities such as the one I attended. Secondly, other proposed measures to cut costs in Higher Education included suggestions today for the introduction of more part-time, and two-year courses. Again, this would still further exacerbate the class influence within our system – with two-year courses coming to be seen as nothing more than ‘mickey mouse’ degrees when compared with traditional three year courses.
The emphasis for the Coalition Government must be to increase the numbers of individuals attending University, especially those from lower income backgrounds. This concern must come before the costs involved, and the current emphasis on cuts. Of course, University funding is an important issue, and one can not expect to receive a free higher education. But the emphasis must be on widening access, not on funding. Further, with more and more inividuals attending University some real work must be put into re-addressing the class bias entrenched within our sytem where it is not ones ‘university education’ that matters, but ones ‘source of university education’ that matters – with preference given to Oxbridge, then Redbrick, then old polytechnics.Indeed, this latter point has PARTLY led me to pursue masters study at LSE – a “prestigious” institution – to add some weight to my own social positiononing. This is wrong, and is a sad reality many graduates from the old polytechnics face once they graduate.