The Students are Revolting

Posted on Fri 10 December 2010 in general

I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the travails of modern students. I was one once myself and I was in part subsidised by the state for my education. Despite this I still walked out of university owing student loans, the bank and my parents money. However at some point you have to stop complaining about the suggested solution and suggest a few of your own. Every time a minority of hotheads do something stupid their cause will suffer and eventually people will wonder why we are subsidising the future of tomorrow if this is how they behave.

As far as I can see it there are a number of approaches to the problem of financing higher education. Which would you choose?

  1. Reduce student numbers

No one seems to be arguing for this. The general consensus seems to be having a large percentage of undergraduates is good for the economy generally.

  1. Increase general taxation

It would have to be by a fair bit to cover the costs. The current funding gap is £4.2bn, so that would around 4p in the pound on the basic rate of tax. You'll also be asking the 50% of the population that don't go to university to pay more taxes so the other 50% can. Personally if I had a spare £4.2bn to spend on education I'd be targeting it at primary and secondary education to ensure more kids come out of school able to read and write to a reasonable degree.

  1. Introduce a graduate tax

This seems to be the (now) preferred option of Labour. I don't like the idea of permanently penalising someone for being educated at Uni. Plus how does that affect areas which require a degree (nursing, teachers) but traditionally attracts lower pay? What happens if students en-mass then decide they would rather move to country which treats people on the same income the same for tax purposes?

  1. The proposed increase in fees and adjustment to loan system.

I personally think this is the way forward. It doesn't penalise the low paid as you have to reach a minimum level before paying back. The debt is a bounded so your not paying back for ever. The variable interest rates based on income adds a progressive edge to it, ensuring the better off shoulder more of the burden. Unlike a graduate tax it's bounded so once you've paid it off your done. And despite all that's been said it's not the same as a mortgage, if your income drops bellow the qualifying level you can postpone payments.

A lot has been made of the opprobrium being heaped on the Lib-Dems for their volte-face. It's totally justified but it's the LD's own fault for doing what they always do which is promising sunshine and roses while knowing they won't have to make good on their promises. Having joined the coalition they have learnt the hard way, they can repent at leisure.

Still my main point stands, you can complain all you like but at some point you need to suggest what you would do to solve the problem.