Thursday, 25 November 2010

Tuition Fees.

Ok, fair warning: I have no big or clever ideas here, I'm just annoyed and need to try and work out what I think, as such this will be a kind of stream of consciousness thing. Dont read looking for any great insight, you wont find it.

Note after having written this: this is not me on form, ignore if you're not really desperate to read every word that falls off my keyboard.

Biases: I'm a student, lazy, supporter of the coalition at the start in a very non-partisan and limited sense (... how many caveats do you want), and a grammar school boy.

Ok, so the proposal is to move the cap on tuition fees to £9000 per year from, making the fees 27k, added to another 20k for accommodation, booze etc and giving a roughly £50k degree rather than the current £30k. Obviously argue about who well charge what and how round those round numbers are etc etc. This is not paid up front, a loan is granted to all automatically to cover this along with means tested bits to deal with accommodation etc. This is paid off after graduation in the form of 9% of income above a certain level (last I heard £21,000).

The alternative as proposed by various people is a graduate tax. Under this proposal you would go to university for free. Then after graduation all graduates would be taxed some amount, maybe about 9% of income after a certain level. Along with means tested loans and grants to deal with accommodation etc

I hope it doesn't take a degree in advanced mathematics to realise that not only is this not a great void or separation, this is exactly the same damned proposal worded in two different ways.

There will of course be differences in how you implements both, but one plan can be tweaked to match pound for pound any possible variant of the other. Graduate tax doesn't affect foreign students, no problem, just impose a supertax the second they graduate if their plans are to emigrate. If we can track people running abroad to avoid paying back their student loan. The student fees proposal loads you down with debt, yeh, but of a very restricted and limited form. You cant go bankrupt because of this loan, you cant default on it either. If your income drops below the threshold you stop paying anything back at all, so you cant be forced to give up your house or anything to pay for it, if you haven't got the money to pay you dont pay, simple as.

The student fee loan is cancelled after 25 years so you get out of paying it. ... Sure, add the same clause to the graduate tax, fine by me.

These two proposals are, if you get 2 clever lawyers and an accountant together for half an hour, exactly equivalent. So there is no debate, at all.


Except that fee sounds scary as fuck. Except that £50k debt sounds terrifying. I come from a poor family, says the smelly unfortunate of our screens, where can I find £50k from?

This is of course nonsense. Far to few people seem to realise just how generous and lenient the student loan system is. If you come from a poor family you wont pay the loan off until you are in a high paid job, never intend to take up such a job? Bully for you, you get your degree for free.

This is the problem, the difference may just be PR. But that is crucial. Too many people are scared by these misunderstandings and put off. This is a large part of why people from poor families dont end up at university (tough of course, getting worse education from birth onwards is always going to be the largest factor there).

This is why I think I support a graduate tax of those two options, it's just a change in words. You'd have to get some lawyers involved to help out with international students and with other boring technicalities especially about the EU. But this is at most a 5 lawyer problem. It is not insurmountable as Cameron seems to claim.

Other options.

I say "of those two", of course there are other options. Take the funding from general taxation, you'd need to raise (very very roughly) an extra £3bn (an extra 3000 a year from about 1 million people at uni). This is not insurmountable, we could manage it by cutting the NHS by 2.5% rather than 0%. But in the current budget climate, maybe this would be hard to manage.

Another option of course that could help this is to slash the number of people going to university. Of course there are people at university who should not be there, people doing non-courses and non-universities in order to get degrees that nobody wants in subjects where there are no relevant jobs.

This is a failing of our approach to higher education, in fact, the fact that I said higher education there at all is indicative. Higher education means university, further eduction means vocational training. One is not more valuable than the other. To have an economy running you need academics to be lawyers and accountants and god-damn scientists, mathematicians and engineers to make stuff. But you also need highly trained and skilful technicians, you need brick layers, you need plumbers and you need secretaries. We have nothing left to dig out of the ground, and our raw labour is just going to keep getting more expensive compared to China and India. The only thing we can do is services, hair dressing, flower arranging, catering, all the things that make life better and we need to research new technologies and new ways of doing things.

These two legs are both needed. So we need to get rid of this mad idea of 50% of people going to university, it doesn't help most people and doesn't help our economy. Get most people into training at aged 18 sure, but it needs to be a mix of vocational and academic to a far greater degree than is the case now.

That long and boring rant was relevant, as vocational training for high-skill technical jobs (whist far more expensive to run) can be paid for largely by the employer or the industry in general, thus reducing the demand on the state. Which helps.


Protests are good. I like protests, almost without exception. I didn't go to this one because as I suggested above I dont think that change on this issue would change anything, it would be good to re-label this a graduate tax. But that is simply not going to happen. The protests will not succeed because there are too many people here with hard stuck opinions (no not the lib dems, I mean people with power).

And it's not, as I suggest, terrible that the protests wont succeed, to get more people as a percentage from poorer backgrounds into university calling it a graduate tax would help, but simply better careers and education advice in schools would help.

So, these protests, I dont agree, but that doesn't stop me sticking my oar in. Protesting is good and important. The police did not show themselves off well today.

Or rather, they did and that's exactly the problem. Parking a riot van in the middle of a protest has one effect, it gets people to vandalise it. This was purely for the benefit of the cameras. The police spent most of their day adversing themselves. Firstly by the kind of camera-friendly stunts as the riot van. And secondly by kettling, this is a mad and dangerous police tactic that sets people on edge and causes inevitable anger and violence, which get some great photos of people throwing traffic barriers.

Oh course, I accuse no individuals of being nearly so cunning as to plan this consciously. But that has been the effect. The police have clearly showed to everyone who want them to control the rabble why they should be given more money.

The problem is that to everyone else they have shown themselves to be thugish. Now, a lot of claims of violence on twitter should be treated with extreme skepticism, the claim about officers U2128 and CA950 having been violent with young and vulnerable people:
"Officers #CA950 & #U2128 reportedly assaulting children - let's get them trending #demo2010 #dayx #ukuncut"

Is hampered only in having no video or photographic evidence and, reportedly, there being no such ID numbers for met police officers. This is a great example of the benefits and dangers of organising via social media, you can easily spread information, but it's hard to kill false stories.

On a personal note. Riots are bad for me, violence is bad, but you try telling me that when I'm watching riot police. Again, violence bad, but I find it really hard to convince myself that that should apply to riot police. I'm not advocating murder or rioting, but I find it hard to imagine myself being unconflicted in condemning it. This is something I need to challenge about myself I know, but for now, that's how I feel.

OK, summary time.

Violence bad, tuition fees are the same thing as a graduate tax so these demos aren't as important as you think they are, graduate tax is still a better word, but more important is good careers advice. Students were foolish, so were police. The police showed off a lot, which is not good.

Wow that was uninteresting.

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