Is Labour set to abolish fees and introduce a graduate tax?
There was a reason why Gordon Brown and then Nick Clegg failed to come up with a workable plan for a graduate tax: it is a bad idea.
But it is hard to explain why it is a bad idea because tuition fees seem such an unattractive idea too, and anything that appears to offers another way is invested with the mythical quality of otherness shared in the old days by communism and in the new days by Swedish social democracy.
A graduate tax is still a bad idea, and Ed Miliband would be foolish to adopt it. Emran Mian, director of the Social Market Foundation who worked as a civil servant on the design of the current tuition fee system, explains why in a brilliantly clear article in Times Higher Education:
Tagged in: graduate tax, student finance
The primary reason to reject a graduate tax is that it replaces the finite and time-limited “‘debt burden” of tuition fee loans with a tax burden that is unlimited both in terms of the total amount due and the period over which it is to be paid. I have always struggled to understand why this would be better for students. Wouldn’t most graduates prefer a time-limited repayment of a fixed amount?
Advocates of a graduate tax might respond that it is possible to create a tax that doesn’t last for life, or that caps total payments – but then we’re talking about something more like repaying a loan. Using the word “tax” is then a purely rhetorical gesture – and a strange one at that. …
Ultimately, the priority for advocates of a graduate tax is probably to reduce marketisation in higher education. …
Under a graduate tax regime, choices about what courses to back with funding would be made by central government … That might work out OK, but advocates of a graduate tax who care about the value of the public university should ask themselves this: is it likely that the government, over the course of several years and changes of administration, will continue to back a non-utilitarian idea of higher education? Or would the values of public education be more likely to be defended by students voting with their feet? Personally, I would back the students.
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