Vince Cable, the coalition Business Secretary has said that there is less money in the pot and that with more people having the opportunity to go to university graduates will have to pay more towards the cost.
Long gone are the days when so few (about 5%) of school leaving population attended university that the cost could be spread out amongst the rest. And back in those days ‘the rest’ possibly did not fully understand how universities were funded, i.e. how much they were paying.
But with the huge increase in university attendance those not benefitting could no longer be asked to foot the bill. So the graduate loan system was created with the aim that those benefitting would pick up a proportion of the cost. But this was perceived to be unfair to graduates who took lower paid jobs. "It surely can't be right that a teacher or care worker or research scientist is expected to pay the same graduate contribution as a top commercial lawyer or surgeon or City analyst whose graduate premium is so much bigger." said Mr Cable.
The new plan is to charge graduates for their tuition on the basis of what they earn and even which university they attended. A graduate tax by any other name with graduates paying more tax and those from prestigious universities possibly paying even more. That is of course until the well reimbursed tax and financial advisers rearrange their finances for them.
Many claim that graduates pay more tax anyway, so what is the problem they ask? But how about the poor swine who can’t get into ‘uni’ but slogs their way up the chain only to find they get taxed the same as a graduate when they get there? Is that fair?
Then what of post-graduates? Would they pay even more?
One worrying aspect to this is that the coalition is looking to promote competition by encouraging private university expansion and the establishment of globally recognised brands. So we would treat education more like business. With this, says Vince Cable, comes the risk of universities failing. Those failing universities would be left to fall, but the students would be protected he said.
Does that mean that the failing university would change hands? Or that those in its cloisters would be transported to another. How about recent graduates or professors of failed universities? How could they and their CVs avoid being tainted by it? Do we need higher education establishments sprouting up and then dying around us?
Then of course there is the tax that is collected. Would it be ring-fenced purely for paying for graduates or like every other tax end up in the pot to be redistributed as ministers see fit? And what of the period between now and when the tax is collected? To fund this there would have to be up-front investment by government today.
There is no getting away from the fact that many graduates do improve our society and its prosperity. Especially those that dedicate themselves to public service, (doctors, nurses, teachers, servicemen, policemen and civil servants to name but a few). But while doing so they also benefit themselves with generally higher than average pay. It is reaching a fair balance that will always be the problem.
Maybe what we need is a graduate tax for those not spending, say three years in the public sector within the first five years of leaving university. As well as asking for any balance owing from a graduate who wishes to emigrate.