Three months into government the coalition still appears no closer to a settled view on university funding - with the main academic and student bodies are also divided over the issue.
Three months into government the coalition still appears no closer to a settled view on university funding – with the Tory Party in particular split between universities minister David Willetts’s insistence graduates should pay a “bigger contribution” to higher education, backbencher Douglas Carswell’s fears of “economic stupor”, and even a call by some in the party for a return to free university education.
The main academic and student bodies are also divided over the issue, with the University and College Union warning Vince Cable’s proposed changes risk escalating the cost of a degree for all students, while the National Union of Students, who support a graduate tax, cautioned against making “sensationalist and simplistic judgements”.
The most left-field suggestion comes from Marcus Booth and Dylan Thomas, who are both on the Conservatives’ approved list of candidates, who explain on Conservative Home:
“The UK spends a little over 1% of GDP on higher education, over 70% of which is government spending in the form of research grants, tuition fee subsidies, and student bursaries.
“Income from tuition fees, currently set at £3,300 per student, comes to only 0.15% of GDP or approximately £5 billion. This is small change for the government but an increasingly heavy burden for graduates.
“We believe that every pound spent by the state on education will have a far greater multiplier effect than the same pound spent on welfare payments to NEETs (not in employment, education or training). Therefore, tuition fees are not a necessary evil but in fact a result of a failure to prioritise government spending.”
While Carswell wrote:
“Taxing graduates more for being graduates is a great idea. If you want to induce economic stupor… Universities need more funding. And more young people want to study. Great. If Society is going to be Big, then let them work it out without imposing blanket solutions or expropriating anyone’s future earnings.”
The UCU, however, says key workers, including doctors, teachers and nurses, would face “massively increased study bills” and the cost of a university degree “would rocket”:
“Teachers, nurses, doctors and social workers would pay considerably more back than under the current system. Under a model where graduates pay a tax of 5% over 25 years, doctors would pay back over £100,000 (£105,564) and teachers close to £50,000 (£46,046).”
General secretary Sally Hunt added:
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“Whatever scheme is proposed to replace fees, the government must ensure that studying for key professions remains attractive and that the prospect of prohibitive costs over a lifetime will not put off the next generation of innovators and public servants.
“We urge Vince Cable to look again at the idea of taxing big business for the substantial benefit it gains from a plentiful supply of graduates, rather than merely looking to penalise students further.”