Is Labour set to abolish fees and introduce a graduate tax?

John Rentoul
ed miliband getty 300x225 Is Labour set to abolish fees and introduce a graduate tax?

(Getty Images)

I wonder if this, asked by George Eaton of the New Statesman two days ago, will turn out to be a Question To Which The Answer Is No.

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:

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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  • Ciaran Goggins

    Yes, all those poor saps with degrees in “Meejah” from Chichester “University” will never reach the £21,000 threshold to start repaying. Burger King wages are a disgrace n’est pas? Oh and John at least Euan, Prescott Jnr, Straw Jnr and Kinnock Jnr can walk into safe seats. Love to Luciana, Mwah!

  • Pacificweather

    Did you get a grant John?

  • Russell Child

    There is an even better solution. Free Higher Education for all. Just like I and many others enjoyed up until relatively recently. It is entirely affordable. We just need to choose to spend our tax revenues in different ways and to implement a progressive taxation system fairly and rigorously.

  • TBP

    But universities have been government-funded for years and years. Fee and loan repayments are essentially part of the tax system anyway.

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