A few thoughts on top-up fees:

  • Firstly, according to Universities UK there is a funding gap of £8.7 billion between that which will be raised by top-up fees and that which is required because despite increased investment in the last couple of years, academics were still under-paid (Source: BBC). It seems clear to me that the only reason UUK would support a bill which they know can not solve their problem is because they believe they will later be able to remove the fee cap, either at committee stage in parliament, or fairly soon after it becomes law.
  • Secondly, the argument that paying for higher education out of general taxation would be unfair is an entirely false one. No-one (with the possible exception of the Liberal Democrats, who have advocated a penny on income tax for education for as long as I can remember) is suggesting that there be an increase in basic rate of taxation to fund universities. Instead, the suggestion is that there be a higher top rate of income tax on any amount earned over £100,000 a year (66% of Labour party members’ preferred method of generating public sector funding, according to a survey for this morning’s Guardian). If we follow the logic that students go on to be rich and should therefore pay, then £100,000 seems a better threshold on which to proclaim someone rich than £15,000, don’t you think? The problem here, of course, is that it’s no longer the poor and the uneducated who would face the unfair burden, but the rich and the powerful and the people who had their education for free. People like Tony Blair, in fact. I don’t know the statistics for the number of people earning over £100,000 who hold degrees, but I suspect it’s close to 90%. And I suspect the majority of the remaining 10% employ or otherwise depend on people who hold degrees. It’s a fairly basic principle of taxation that you take from people who have benefited or will benefit in order to fund those who are benefiting.
  • Thirdly, while it is true that the 50% in higher education target does seem to have been plucked from thin air, that is not cause to start closing universities. Everyone with the ability for a higher education ought to be able to get one, and get one without fear of a lifetime of debt. If that means 50%, it means 50%. If it means 100%, so be it. I’m not sure that would be practical just at the moment, but there was a time not long ago when people would have said the same of primary and secondary education. Some say times have changed and we can no longer expect the government to pay for higher education. We wouldn’t accept that argument for primary and secondary education, why should HE be any different? Our times are what we make them, and if we keep going this way we are moving backward, not forward. It’s also worth noting that William Edward Forster, largely responsible for getting education for all, was a Bradford MP.
  • Fourthly, regarding the suggestion that education be funded from cuts to the defence budget; no-one is advocating losing the military—much as I might find the idea appealing. UBU submitted a motion to NUS conference which suggested reducing military spending to the European NATO average, saving £3.5 billion. We could save the best part of half a billion right away by ending government subsidies to the arms trade—an area which accounts for 3-4% of the British economy and yet is the second most heavily subsidised area after agriculture.

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