Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist?

Business Secretary Vince Cable’s announcement this morning in support of a graduate tax today is an important milestone in the campaign for a fairer university funding system.

Business Secretary Vince Cable’s announcement this morning in support of a graduate tax today is an important milestone in the campaign for a fairer university funding system, but we will only celebrate when he has made good on his word and the unfair and regressive system of student fees has been consigned to history and replaced with a progressive alternative.

NUS has long supported, costed and advocated a progressive graduate contribution based on earnings after graduation as an alternative to the regressive market logic of tuition fees. Vince Cable is right to say that if the current system of top-up fees is a form of graduate tax, it is comparable to the poll tax.

Not only does it share key features of Thatcher’s disastrous levy, but it is also as deeply unpopular.

It is quite right for Dr Cable to ask why, under the current unpopular and regressive top-up fee system, a care worker or teacher is expected to pay for their education as much as a corporate lawyer or banker.

A fairer system would involve the abolition of sticker prices in prospectuses based on guesswork and their replacement with a contribution determined entirely by future earnings. This would end the very notion of tuition fee debt.

The fair solution is to abolish tuition fees and ensure that graduate contributions are based on actual earnings in the real world, rather than sticker prices in prospectuses, which are based on guesswork.

It is now crucial that the Business Secretary makes good on his stated priority of delivering a fairer funding system for students, and we will scrutinise and judge him, his department and the Government on that. It is quite clear that students and their families are not prepared to be treated as fools or conned by rebranding and marketing exercises.

A genuinely progressive graduate contribution has certain key features, and this will be the acid test of Dr Cable’s stated priority of ensuring students see the funding system as fair. We will hold him to it.

It is now incumbent on him as the Secretary of State in charge of universities to make good on his commitments, including that made in his manifesto to abolish fees, on the basis of which he was re-elected as an MP two months ago.

Where the Business Secretary is wrong is in suggesting that a fairer higher education funding system must come at the expense of cuts to university funding or student places, or both. At a time when we need more high level skills to speed the economic recovery, and when countries like France and the United States are investing in universities and students, it is both unfair and short-sighted to believe cuts will be in our long term interests.

Dr Cable is right that that greater flexibility is needed in higher education in combination with greater fairness, and this includes expanding the range of study options and modes. However, it would be wrong to force students to take two year degrees or to stay at home because they would not otherwise be able to afford the cost of university. The re-opening of a two tier system would not be in line with his stated aim of greater fairness for students.

The devil may very much be in the detail of what the Coalition Government eventually propose. What is clear is that Dr Cable was re-elected as an MP just two months ago having personally signed the NUS pledge to students and their families to vote against any rise in fees, and to work to introduce a fairer alternative, while the Liberal Democrats as a party have made much of their pledge to abolish tuition fees entirely.

Students and their families are not fools, and will not be conned by rebranding exercises or marketing drives, so we must now be clear – failure to meaningfully live up to these promises will simply not be tolerated and accordingly we will hold Dr Cable and the Coalition Government to account in the weeks and months ahead.

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31 Responses to “Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist?”

  1. Aisha Gani

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB

  2. Philip Cane

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB

  3. Aaron Porter

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB

  4. Mathew Parkin

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB (via @AaronPorter)

  5. Martin Johnston

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB

  6. aliceh

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB

  7. Max Nathan

    Vince Cable (and LFF) get it right on tuition fees RT @leftfootfwd: Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB

  8. Robward Sanderown

    RT @i_am_maxnathan: Vince Cable (and LFF) get it right on tuition fees RT @leftfootfwd: Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB

  9. Aaron Porter

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB (via @AaronPorter)

  10. FreelanceStudents

    Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB @leftfootfwd

  11. Ell Aitch

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB

  12. Nicky Godfrey

    Aaron Porter (NUS President)'s perspective on Vince Cable's proposals on a graduate tax – http://bit.ly/bja4DB

  13. Jonathan Davies

    RT @AaronPorter: RT @leftfootfwd: Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB (via @AaronPorter)

  14. NUS Student Media

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB

  15. Evidence based? Really?

    Having recently been a student and carrying a large amount of debt, i really don’t understand this mountain of debt argument. I come from a modest income family and earn under £25,000 a year and seriously don’t feel burderned by my plus £15,000 debt. £10,000 of that is from my student loan which i am paying off according to my income (if thats not progressive what is?) and the rest of it is from living costs etc. I fully accept that we need more help to encourage poorer people to go to University, but there are scores of ways that this could be acheived- scrapping ridiculous 50% targets for one.

    As a student who in now way, back ground or personal wealth, can be described as rich, my advice is man up- or person up if Harriet Harman is reading- University is great, sure you’ll be in a lot of debt, but you’ll earn more money and doors will open to you.

  16. Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? | Left Foot Forward | the Day after Buzz

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  17. We need a fair alternative

    “The fair solution is to abolish tuition fees and ensure that graduate contributions are based on actual earnings in the real world”.

    Isn’t that called “income tax”? Movement towards a system whereby we tax those who use a service are hardly progressive. We don’t ask those who are seriously ill to pay more towards the NHS!

    Britain needs a thriving HE sector. All the objetcive measures indicate that HE drives growth by increasing private sector demand. Given that investment in HE benefits society much more than the individual (when I leave Uni, I’m not certain to get a job), why are we talking about HE as though its an individual luxury for which students should be paying?

    As the UCU point out, the solution is a business tax. The corporate sector in this country pays 25% less towards Higher Education than its European comparators. In this already unfair context, why are we asking graduates to pay more?

  18. Thom Rawlinson

    RT @leftfootfwd: Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB

  19. John77

    Vince Cable’s speech seemed very different from your and tabloid headlines. A graduate tax would include himself and Will Straw (owner of this website) and me. I have happily contributed to my old college (that famously/notoriously subsidised undergraduate food in my day) because I think that it deserves my support (although my son went elsewhere). A graduate tax could make a major impact on the budget deficit if the UK government had a record of everyone in the UK who had graduated from a UK university in the last 60-odd years so that it could increase their personal tax rate by 5%. I presume that taxing anyone who had grown up in the 30s, War and immediate post-war years in order to subsidise 21st century teenagers is unacceptable

  20. DazedLibDem

    Cable is playing for time, rather than being the announcement of new government policy, he is just trying to take the heat of himself and the other top orange bookers. His speech was a kite flying exercise which will be shoot down in flames by Browne’s review, which will announce that raising tuition fees to £7000 pa is the best option.

    Clegg, Cable and chums have subverted almost every principle that the LibDems have campaigned on in the last 20 years. Even Clegg admits, in private, that they’ll be punished severely in the local elections and will be lucky to hang on to 30 seats at the next general election. They’re banking on economic growth in 4-5 years time, AV and government experience will save them from annihilation – well that is the spin he is giving his gormless lobby fodder.

  21. Michael Burke

    “A fairer system would involve the abolition of sticker prices in prospectuses based on guesswork and their replacement with a contribution determined entirely by future earnings. This would end the very notion of tuition fee debt.”

    Sorry, but is there a translation of that into English?

    Is the NUS leadership arguing, with the coalition government, that income taxes should be based on educational attainment? A graduate tax? If so they ought to explain how the following consequences are progressive:

    1. Two foreign exchange dealers, one a graduate paying more tax, the other less

    2. Two teachers, ditto

    3. Two graduates, one a nurse the other a foreign exchange dealer, paying the same rate of tax, despite very diferent rates of pay

    4. A working class woman/man eschewing university on the grounds that it will impair their net incomes in nursing/teaching/even foreign exchange dealing

    5. A consequent tax on learning when the international challenges are precisely focused on the educational quality of the workforce

  22. Politics Summary: Friday, July 16th | Left Foot Forward

    […] country than two years ago and future spending had to be adjusted accordingly.” Yesterday on Left Foot Forward, the president of the National Union of Students asked whether the skills secretary was a […]

  23. Who is Vince Cable trying to fool? « Guy Debord's Cat

    […] than the current 3 or 4 years.  In my mind, this is something of a con-trick. Aaron Porter of Leftfootforward says, Dr Cable is right that that greater flexibility is needed in higher education in combination […]

  24. Kevin McNamara

    RT @leftfootfwd vince cable: friend of students or con artist? http://bit.ly/bja4DB

  25. How Cable's university tax may become a long-term burden | Left Foot Forward

    […] stated in an article on last week, written by the president of the National Union of Students – Vince Cable: Friend of students or con artist? – families and students will not be fooled nor conned by any covering of the graduate tax as fair […]

  26. Jayne

    Here we go again, tax those who are prepareD to make scarifies and work hard all the way through their education and their lives. While I appreciate we are not all on the same level, people do make a choice to work hard or not. Those who work hard, get to university, already support the drop outs and those whose choose to become single parents, they make no contribution at all but drain the system. Now those who get their degree (and it is not easy) are now expected to add more to the pot for life to support the idle -GET REAL!!!

  27. katie

    While on the subject of a tax, which is madness – how about reducing the courses to 2 years. Most universities only function for 6 months (a month off in Dec, month off at Easter and 4 months off in summer) utter madness, reduce the time at university – even if it costs 5,000 a year – that is a year earlier into the workforce. This Government is on the road to ruin – doing too much too quick without thinking properly. To suggest a graduate tax is madness – sounds the right thing to do would be not to sit the final exams and then you are never liable, go abroad and take those exams then you owe nothing to the UK – JUST AN IDEA!

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