Why don’t MPs pay back tuition fees instead of increasing ours?


9:20 am - June 12th 2010

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contribution by Neil Boorman

Earlier this year, David Willets released a book called The Pinch, in which he argued how the Baby Boomer generation has mortgaged its children’s future to pay for it’s own instant gratification.

If our political, economic and cultural leaders do not begin to discharge their obligations to the future, the young people of today will be taxed more, work longer hours for less money, have lower social mobility and live in a degraded environment in order to pay for their parents’ quality of life.

It all seemed to make sense, except that the book offered no real solutions to the long-term prospects of Generation Debt.

This week, after less than a month in office as Minister for Universities, he gave a very large hint at a solution; more debt. University funding as it currently stands is unsustainable, says Willetts, so undergraduates will probably have to start paying a lot more in the way of fees.

But it’s better not to think of them as fees, more of university tax. The pill might be rather bitter, so the argument goes, but its worth swallowing to allow wider engagement in higher education. If only this were true.

Earlier in the month, a report from the Office for Fair Access revealed how there has been no significant change to the intake of top universities since the mid-1990s. In fact, the wealthiest 20% of youngsters, are seven times more likely than the most disadvantaged 40% to get places at England’s most selective schools.

People from Willetts’ generation can rebrand tuition fees however they like, but they’ll never know just how heavy the millstone of student debt is, because they never paid any. Every single Education Secretary since 1998 – the year grants made way for repayable fees – educated themselves at university for free (except Alan Johnson who didn’t go). And every single one of them has voted strongly in favour of making their children pay.

Tell a modern undergraduate that his/ her parents went to uni for free, and received up to £4,000 in non-refundable maintenance, and they’ll blink back at you in disbelief. Of course it’s a different story now.

Little wonder, when the average student in 2010 graduates with over £20,000. On that basis of the proposed increases, students will be clocking up close to £30,000 in debts which will take graduates an average of twenty years at today’s salaries of work to clear.

You could argue that debt is a means to an end if degrees were worth the paper they were written on. But they’re not. Last year, 40,000 students left university and headed straight for the dole queue. And they were just the ones who could apply for support.

So here’s an alternative suggestion for a university tax.

If people like Willetts feel so guilty about taking something for free and charging to give it back, why not make a retrospective fee payment themselves. How about every successful Baby Boomer, that flourished as a direct result of their free education, makes a payment of £30,000?

Don’t think of it as a fee; don’t think of it as a tax even. Think of it as a gift from the richest generation that ever lived to the generation that’s now born into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt. It would make everyone feel so much better.

—————-
Neil Boorman is the author of It’s All Their Fault. www.itsalltheirfault.com

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Reader comments


LOL – good suggestion. Has merit, though. We can’t keep making education more and more expensive.

2. Laurie Penny

*pompoms on the pitch*

3. Laurie Penny

*pompoms on the pitch*

4. Flowerpower

How about every successful Baby Boomer, that flourished as a direct result of their free education, makes a payment of £30,000?

Seems fair until you reflect that their parents faced marginal tax rates of 98% under the socialist terror, so you could argue that BBs’ “free” university education had already been paid for (morally speaking).

5. gastro george

Seems fair until you reflect that their parents faced marginal tax rates of 98% under the socialist terror …

I’d sooner reflect on the marginal tax rate of 90+% that the poor face under any government.

An ace idea!

I think it would be more efficient just to whack house prices (through de-regulating the housing sector). That way it isn’t just the relatively well-off youngsters who go to expensive universities that benefit, but anyone who wants to rent or buy a home. You’d wipe out some of the baby boomer’s paper wealth at a stroke that way.

Perhaps it would be sensible if people looked at the employment prospects before starting a degree. The UK is short of engineers, doctors and many scientists. If we moved 75% of the resources from the arts and humanities to engineering, medicine and science we could probably reduce the cost of education. There is no reason why the UK cannot return to a polytechnic style of education where people study in the evening . Many engineers, scientists( especially analytical chemists – J Lovelock), engineers, acountants, solicitors and architects studied through evening study. It was often said that draftsmen who studied for architecture at Regent St Poly in the evenings were far better than those who attended the AA as they were more practical.

The inability of the UK to produce people who understand the practical aspects of industry is probably due to the decline of those who have completed apprenticeships studying to become chartered ( degree qualified and with relevant experience ) engineers through attending courses at the local poly.

He allegedly said

“The so-called debt [students] have is more like an obligation to pay higher income tax”

He almost had it there! Why don’t they raise income tax, then? Wouldn’t that be more effective?


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  13. Pay Now, Earn Later « Beyond Feminism

    […] newly appointed Universities Minister, has had a remarkably unoriginal idea for a Tory official: raise tuition fees. If their wages depended on the originality of their proposals, they would all be pisspoor. The […]





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