The National Union of Students has today released a Higher Education Funding 'blue print' to act as an alternative to the current fees model. Moving away from the traditional 'free education for all' argument, the NUS has engaged in the debate by proposing its own model based on a glorified graduate tax system. The proposal follows concerns about the current funding system with the NUS pointing that nearly 30,000 people have signed a 10 Downing Street Petition against the top-up fee model. Predictions of student debt escalate to in excess of £26,000 to accompany a potential lifting of the cap to £5,000.
The NUS lists the five key benefits of their "alternative model". They say:
- "It is fairer, more progressive and supports widening access
- It prevents variable top-up fees so all students are treated fairly in the future
- More money for higher education in the long-term
- An end to up front fees and a better deal for part-time students
- Greater flexibility and focus on lifelong learning"
The model seeks to prevent an open market and variable fees while making payments more affordable. It is proposed that this could be done by spreading them out over a longer period of time, however including a twenty year cut off so that graduates are not contributing 'for their whole working lives'.
Most importantly, the proposals see all graduate contributions going into a central trust fund, a 'People's Trust for Higher Education', rather than directly to the institution at which they studied. This is intended to ensure that students get funding based on 'what they need, not where they study'. However, this is an issue that both Imperial and UCL Students were strongly against when we spoke at NUS Conference in 2008.
The NUS has chosen a system whereby "the total contribution a person makes would be linked to the benefit they obtain from higher education over a longer period, leading to a much higher total contribution from very high earners." Although they argue that this is not simply a Graduate Tax. This has raised criticism from a number of sources who argue that the NUS favours students who 'bum around' at university: achieve nothing, get nowhere and therefore have to pay nothing back; while simultaneously penalising those who pay attention to their studies and therefore inevitably end up on much higher wages due to their hard work and dillegence.
Ashley Brown, Imperial College Union President-elect told Live!:
"They have some very interesting proposals in the blueprint, and it certainly changes the rules of the game. However, as our students typically use their degrees to the maximum potential, entering highly paid jobs and ending up in the 40%-50% tax bracket, they would be paying the greatest contributions. We need to look at the implications this would have over the 20 year term."
"It doesn't address the issue of who should pay for people who go to university 'for a laugh', and fail to use their degrees. Under this system, people would be free to do that with no consequences, paid for by people who put in the work and achieved something."
The Russell Group has hit out at the proposals saying "a deep recession is not the time to be introducing a complicated new ?tax?." Wendy Piatt, the Director General, continued "they have effectively renamed ?student debt? as ?graduate contributions'." The Russell Group outlined a number of concerns:
- the time it would take to see any increase in funding,
- breaking the link between students and the institution they attend,
- uncertainties for potential students about how much Higher Education is going to cost before starting out on a degree.
Imperial College also responded to the Blue Print by adding:
"As the Rector has said recently, a serious debate about how to fund universities appropriately is needed, and it must be one that recognises the contributions made by the UK?s world-class universities. At present the value of an Imperial degree is not reflected in the income received, and the College?s view is that it must be able to set fees at levels which reflect the cost and quality of the education offered, and the contributions that graduates make to the economy.
"It is essential that any change to funding student tuition should not deter prospective students who would flourish at Imperial College. The College is committed to encouraging the best students wherever they may be found, and to providing financial assistance to ensure that financial circumstances do not act as a barrier to entry to Imperial. However, as the evidence gathered by the Russell Group demonstrates, academic attainment before the age of 18 is the key determinant of study in higher education."