I will be taking the working of a petition (online and paper one) to a ULU meeting for approval on Tuesday - hopefully I should have it drafted before ICU Council (at which hopefully I shall be present) if you wish to flick though it.
Can't believe I put "hopefully" in a sentence with a council meeting, but then again these are extraordinary times!
I know we have (at present) 154 signatures, but there are thousands of alumni, students, staff, parents & friends etc out there, we need to plug this heavily, so people know it exists, and sign it. Cos with a huge quantity of signatures, the Rector must take notice, and if he doesn't, accept the consequences.
What worries me is: what's going to happen to the current HEFCE ?7500 per student subsidy? It's not like we're going to get it back, if we're all simply made to pay top-up fees (whether upfront, or through a loan); it won't mean lower taxation. It will probably go to subsidising government bureucrats instead!
But if the government continues to provide the same level of subsidy, and this is combined with a top-up fee system, where the richer students pay the full value of their degree (and not anything extra to subsidise the poorer students -who instead will continue to be subsidised by HEFCE), there is a real chance here to draw from the benefits of both the American and British systems and develop a more equitable one, which places us at an even more advantageous position than America in terms of wider access & acquiring brilliant people, whatever their background.
If HEFCE no longer subsidises the 30% who are able to pay 11,375 (1,075 + 7,500 + 2,800 shortfall), this leaves an extra 2.25K per student for the remaining 70% -bringing the total subsidy to ?9750 per poor(er) student. This still leaves a shortfall of ?1625 per poor(er) student. But 3 x ?1625 = ?4875, as the tuition cost of a degree to a poor(er) student, is a reasonable amount for her/him to pay off: it's manageable debt. This means that 70% of students will have ?4,875 (+living expenses) of debt, instead of ?34,125 (+living expenses) for 100% of students (3 x 11,327 -a level of debt, which in the long term could weaken the economy!); PLUS the true cost of education will have been met!
So my proposal is: charge the richest 30% the full value of their degree (?11,375), and the remaining 70% pay ?1625 (with a ?9750 HEFCE subsidy). At the more simple level, there will be 32.65% extra cash in the system -and the immediate ?2800 shortfall per student would disappear. I am not suggesting this should be so 'cut-and-dry' between the rich and poor students. This model could be refined and different levels of subsidy available at different levels (say, only 15% pay the full ?11,375 fee; a further 25% pay 50%, and the extremely poor pay only a nominal amount). But where, all in all, there is an extra ?2800 per student. In fact, even better, it could be proportional -where there are no definitive income 'thresholds'.
IN ADDITION, there are a variety of different ways (as has been pointed out above) for universities to make a fat sum, which have not been fully potentialised in the UK. This is particularly the case with 'spin-off companies'. Oxford, the UK leader in spin-offs has commercial activities worth just ?2bn. This is pathetic when compared to MIT, whose related companies clocked up global sales of $232bn in 1997 (CF. http://specials.ft.com/universities2001/FT3L89VL6LC.html). There needs to be a cultural shift here and we should proactively foster entrepreneurial spirit in our universities. Not only could it contribute huge amounts to universities themselves, but can provide graduates with more jobs in a time of uncertainty, and generally contributes masses to the national economy. This is where IC & UCL could eclipse Oxbridge.
BUT, we have to strongly lobby every thing out there, so that the HEFCE subsidies don't just disappear into government coffers, behind the screen of 'top-up fees'. THIS IS WHERE THE STUDENT EFFORT SHOULD BE FOCUSSING THEIR ENERGIES! Making sure the current government subsidy of ?7,500 per student STAYS IN THE SYSTEM!
One thing is finding ways to alleviate the shortfall; it's quite another to suddenly make individuals shoulder the FULL cost of education, thus negating the benefits of higher education to society at large & dissolving the logic of subsidising it through general taxation. This is an unacceptable prescription!