Excellent plans for higher education

Baroness Murphy

Rarely have I felt more positive about a proposed piece of legislation than the higher education provisions that we are about to vote on tomorrow. The progressive Browne plan for free student education, with the Government, not families, paying up front  a more realistic tuition fee to individual universities is a vast improvement on the current situation where almost everyone ends up in debt, students, families and universities too. The new proposals will mean that only those graduates who eventually get jobs above the average salary will pay back anything. The currently available evidence does not support the view that real loan debt has put off students from poorer backgrounds from applying so it’s unlikely that the risk of future debt will put off students from poorer backgrounds either.

The fact is that my student grant to study medicine back in the 1960s, free for me, was paid for largely by ordinary working people who earned a lot less than I was eventually able to do. That seemed tolerable as long as there were relatively few people who went to university at a relatively modest cost to the taxpayer. But we now rightly want a higher proportion of the population of young people and mature part-timers too to benefit from higher education and it’s no longer sustainable to fund everyone who could benefit from the working population, especially as the primary beneficiary of an education is the individual themselves.

There is a natural sympathy with the student protesters (the majority well behaved ones that is), but  I wonder if any of them have considered the practical provisions at all? Strikes me they are extra-ordinarily misinformed. Why would they protest about a system which will be cheaper for the majority, widens access to more students, will exert more pressure on universities to respond to local student opinion on quality and will see their education providers less likely to go bust? The coalition plans are first rate and I shall look forward to voting for the Government tomorrow.

52 comments for “Excellent plans for higher education

  1. Lord Blagger
    13/12/2010 at 1:52 pm

    Why would they protest about a system
    ===========

    Because they have worked out what the game is.

    The game is that they have to pay up front by borrowing and taking the risk.

    Then the government comes along and says, your earning a lot of money (by virtue of taking that risk), so we are going to deprive you of that benefit.

    If you say its cheaper for the majority, it means that the students will never pay back the loans for the reason it was never economical to send them in the first place. The Independent puts this at 75% of all students.

    So unless you really penalise the 25% who do well, or widen the net and force the checkout girl at Tesco’s to forego some of their spending, it just means the government gets deeper into debt.

    Same as with the Lords expenses and fiddles. That’s all on the credit card, for the students to pay off.

    That’s why they are revolting.

  2. 13/12/2010 at 2:21 pm

    Baroness, I broadly agree. I would encourage you however to look at two areas separate to the fees themselves: 1) requiring “needs blind” admissions processes to avoid the details of fees for poorer students affecting the intake, and 2) cost of living, where I am not convinced poorer students won’t be put off by the immediate cost of day to day living, rather than means-tested fee repayments.

    There is a case to be made for funding from general taxation. Personally I’d like to see that happen again. But we’re in a “you can’t get there from here” situation. To do so would require a higher level of taxation, which must be voted for by the public. It is not right that all taxpayers should contribute to an expensive service that only a minority are permitted to enjoy by the admissions offices, without having voted on it as being in their interest.

    Before the public is likely to vote for that, extensive reform is necessary to deal with high drop out rates, the “Mickey Mouse degree” issue and so forth.

    I’ve written a reasonably balanced piece (I hope) at http://www.contrastingsounds.com/2010/12/10/the-long-road-to-getting-rid-of-tuition-fees/.

    And if you’ve read this far, may I say I was delighted to read about “Cello Scrotum” when I read your bio on Wikipedia.

  3. Carl.H
    13/12/2010 at 2:25 pm

    The average salary can be put at £25k a year which is above the payback limit.
    http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=285

    ” It’s no longer sustainable to fund everyone who could benefit from the working population, especially as the primary beneficiary of an education is the individual themselves.”

    Not so, if they benefit by getting better careers such as the Health Service whose salaries seem above everyone elses then the payback in tax will pay for their education, especially if a graduate tax were in place. Nor should their be any need for them to pay back exorbitant interest.

    An 80% reduction in higher education budgets is not misinformation but fact.

    “Why would they protest about a system which will be cheaper for the majority”

    But you`ve already stated it would not be a majority as we cannot afford that, it would be a system that saw the rich with an unjustifiable advantage and a return to a Victorian Class Education system.

    The beneficiary from a good education is society as a whole, in taxation, in ideas and concepts that will bring new business to this country. India and China are proof of that, as their education system has progressed so has their wealth. Yes theydo have a long way to go as yet but the evidence is there to see.

    Will my Lady be voting with Government when they state there are too many geriatrics in our hospitals costing us too much ? Perhaps they will bring in a euthanasia law…..for poor people ?

    “The currently available evidence does not support the view that real loan debt has put off students from poorer backgrounds from applying so it’s unlikely that the risk of future debt will put off students from poorer backgrounds either.”

    It would be very difficult to calculate exactly what the figures were and I would suggest any figure with this in mind wouldbe a guestimate.

    And this from a member of the House of Lords who was up in arms just a short time ago about a really relatively minor decrease in allowances if at all. From a member who had free education and now pays no tax on her privileged position.

    Does my Lady feel that through her free education and the taxes she has paid through her good career that enough has been paid back into the system to warrant that education ?

    • Croft
      13/12/2010 at 4:11 pm

      “Not so, if they benefit by getting better careers such as the Health Service whose salaries seem above everyone elses then the payback in tax will pay for their education, especially if a graduate tax were in place. Nor should their be any need for them to pay back exorbitant interest.”

      Under the proposed fees the expectation is that only ~25% will pay back their fees the majority having some or all of it written off. The differential rates allow the write off via a cross student subsidy without taxpayer intervention. Under the present system a majority of students never pay back in additional tax (the difference between their potential pre-post uni career average salary) the real (not official) cost of their degree.

      The government proposal is a time-limited/capped graduate tax in all but name. Which of course is why the LDs in government debated a calling it that. Only Tory hysteria over creating a new ‘tax’ really prevented them calling a spade a spade. [Though to prevent evasion by foreign students they would have had a loan irrespective of what they ‘called’ it politically]

      “An 80% reduction in higher education budgets is not misinformation but fact.”

      The 80% teaching reduction is being countered by the fees rise and the money earned from the fees is paid up front by the government so in effect we are in the same place – assuming Unis set their fees at ~7200.

      The real reduction occurred over the last 20 years where the government subsidy per student effectively fell through the floor as the numbers mushroomed but the subsidy lagged far behind. This has caused the drop in taught hours and is quite unsustainable.

      • Carl.H
        13/12/2010 at 6:09 pm

        The 80% teaching reduction is being countered by the fees rise and the money earned from the fees is paid up front by the government so in effect we are in the same place – assuming Unis set their fees at ~7200.

        The 80% reduction of HE is across the board so colleges and younger not University students come into play as well as mature students who do not pay. There WILL be a reduction in the number of paying students as the Government intend Universities only to cater for particular studies, money will be taken from other subjects this has been widely stated. So the 7200 you quoted is unlikely to cover the costs.

        So where will that leave all the HE colleges ? Universities able to charge which in your opinion will cover costs but what about all the college trade courses our young people attend. They`re also about to lose EMA as well, one of the factors that makes sure they attend.

        The level at which students payback fees from 2016 will be £21k which is just over £400 per week, below the median wage at present. The IFS had worked their figures on the £21k being this years figure not 2016, Vince Cable failed to illuminate the Commons to this point.

        • Croft
          14/12/2010 at 11:03 am

          “There WILL be a reduction in the number of paying students as the Government intend Universities only to cater for particular studies, money will be taken from other subjects this has been widely stated.”

          There won’t, there has yet to be a western example of uni students numbers dropping 5 years after a fee rise. Britain will be no different and yes fees of 7200 is the approx cost of an average degree. Core degrees still funded can still charge the higher fees so actually could be in surplus.

          The evidence that the EMA makes much difference is weak – it was a political bribe not a evidence based exercise.

          • Carl.H
            14/12/2010 at 2:56 pm

            “Increasing tuition fees to £7,000 per year would mean a sharp drop in young people wanting to go to university, says a survey.

            The Sutton Trust education charity has published research showing 80% of 2,700 youngsters asked in England and Wales expect to apply to university.

            But it warns a steep rise in fees could mean two-thirds changing their minds.”
            http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10355042

            From June 2009 after top-up fees

            ” Sally Hunt, general secretary of the lecturer’s union, the University and Colleges Union, said: “The bottom line is that the punitive cost of higher education is putting off the very students whom the government wishes to attract. Of equal concern are the higher drop-out rates at the institutions that are doing the most to try and attract students from poorer backgrounds. Their work needs to be given greater support, not criticised.”

            NUS President Wes Streeting said: “These figures show that universities are getting even worse at widening participation from students from poorer backgrounds, despite promising to work harder in this area in return for the ability to charge top-up fees.

            “The idea that fees could be raised to £5,000 a year without any impact on those from lower socio-economic backgrounds is laughable, particularly given the current harsh economic climate.”

            http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/jun/04/drop-out-rate-rises

            “-the main barrier to education is still tuition fees despite OSAP. “Researchers at the University of Guelph found that 40% fewer students from low-income families were attending University after tuition fees rose.” –Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives”

            http://criticalguelph.blogspot.com/2009/11/drop-fees-for-poverty-free-ontario.html

            “The number of first-time students at the country’s universities declined in the autumn session overall, but the number of new students from other countries increased ahead of the introduction of tuition fees for non-EU students next year.”

            http://www.thelocal.se/30406/20101124/

          • Carl.H
            15/12/2010 at 7:50 pm

            @Croft who said

            “The evidence that the EMA makes much difference is weak – it was a political bribe not a evidence based exercise.”

            “A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says its cost is “completely offset” by its benefits.

            The EMA is claimed by some 600,000 youngsters from poorer families.

            The report by the IFS found EMA increased the proportion of young people who stay on from 65% to 69% among 16-year-olds and from 54% to 61% among 17-year-olds.

            The research found that in areas where EMA was available, students had A-level grades averaging four points higher than would otherwise be reached and were 2% more likely to reach thresholds on the National Qualifications Framework.”
            http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11998992

      • Carl.H
        13/12/2010 at 7:09 pm

        “Under the proposed fees the expectation is that only ~25% will pay back their fees the majority having some or all of it written off.”

        Only one in four graduates will pay back the full cost of their tuition fees under the coalition’s new system for financing higher education in England.

        Internal government figures, seen by The Independent on Sunday, reveal that a small minority of students paying fees of up to £9,000 a year are expected ever to pay them off in full. Ministers believe most graduates will spend their whole working lives making monthly payments to cover their loans and interest – without ever being able to settle their debts.

        http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/only-a-quarter-of-all-graduates-will-pay-off-loans-2158168.html

        • Croft
          14/12/2010 at 11:15 am

          Since the loan is written off after 30 years they won’t spend their whole working lives (~50years) paying it off. In so far as the interest will limit the loan repayment itself that doesn’t necessarily matter. The government will get back far more of the loans than you believe – whether it is the direct repayment of the loan or part of the loan + interest equalling the same. It is essential they do to cross subsidise those who never pay back.

          • Carl.H
            15/12/2010 at 12:36 pm

            Government !!!!

            Student Loan Company and other assets to be sold by UK Government.

            “The student loan book was reportedly worth around £18bn in 2009. It will be considered an attractive asset for buyers, who would expect to make a profit from repayments from graduates in years to come. The previous government passed legislation to allow it to sell the asset back in July 2008 and has been under consideration since. The Student Loans Company lent over £5 billion last year, up nearly 20 per cent on the previous year.”

            http://www.business-sale.com/news/article/student-loan-company-and-other-assets-to-be-sold-by-uk-government-33006.html

  4. Croft
    13/12/2010 at 2:40 pm

    What a change to hear someone actually pleased to vote for the changes!

    I’ve looked at various published figures but I’ve yet to find a western country that five years after a fee introduction/rise has fewer students – of all classes. That lots of students will be put off seems to be offered by opponents of this change as an argument needing no evidence but a proof in itself. It has something of doubt dip debate about it – people seemed to be desperate to try to talk the economy down and now they seem to be trying to frighten future students over debt.

    I disagree with one point though – I think it perfectly possible that a few of the weakest Unis will collapse as students seek more rigorous degrees and exercise their choice and some are unable to change to meet these new demands. But I don’t think that a bad thing. I’ve always believed excellence is impossible without the threat of failure.

    • Carl.H
      13/12/2010 at 5:42 pm

      “That lots of students will be put off seems to be offered by opponents of this change as an argument needing no evidence but a proof in itself.”

      When the planning of a University education first comes about it parents that have the say. The students will be mostly 16-17 and parents take a lot of things into consideration, not just the fees. Parents will either push and decide they can afford to cover the costs or will state catagorically we cannot afford it, which I have known in a number of cases. Some students will know beforehand themselves that their parents will not be able to afford the extras that come with University life and therefore will devise an alternate career. That occured with my 19 year old daughter who had actually got a place in University.

      There are a miriad of things to take into account when trying to enumerate those who don`t go to University for possible financial reasons. £9000 per year will seem an awful lot of debt to someone whose parents maybe on benefit and the fact they will feel they may be mixing with people from the upper classes and may fail the course miserably also needs consideration.

      To start your adult life in £30k worth of debt, having to earn approx £60k a year to afford a mortgage for a decent flat or house (in the south based on 3 x salary) is quite daunting.

      The Government quite rightly want people who work to know they are of more value so are preparing to make a difference to those that do. However in this instance they appear to want take more off of those who worked hard and got a decent job, seems illogical especially as the more you earn the more tax you will pay.

      There is also the fact that if University entrants are reduced by a great number so will teachers be. More would-be students in the job market and more teachers. Now this Government seems to think it has a magic wand and will magic jobs from nowhere, they really do not exist and things will become worse with cuts across the spectrum.

      If we reduce University entrants by 75% where will they go ? Remembering that prison costs 4 times the £9k and a single parent parent possibly as much.

      Is it possible that this side has not been scrutinised enough and infact could possibly lead to a far worse drain on the system and tax payer ?

  5. Jamie
    13/12/2010 at 3:11 pm

    It was tolerable for the ordinary people to pay for a few people to go to university, now when their children and almost 50% of the population do it becomes intolerable??? so its fine when education is just for the priveledged but when the masses wants it, it isn’t????

    What kind of twisted logic is that.

    On another point, cheaper for the majority??? no its not its cheaper for less than 25% of the people and more expensive for 75%.

    When i graduate i pay more income tax due to my apparent individual gains in icreased earnings. This more than pays off the cost of my education.

    Also i would challenge your assertion that it is the individual that gains the most. I would argue it is business that gains the most. They gain the educated work force which then allows them to make lots of money. Then they dodge their taxes so that they don’t pay for the massive benefits that they receive. How on earth is this fair????

    To say that we cannot afford to send this proportion of our population to university is simply not true. It is about choices.

    Also can we please move away from this argument that a university education is just about employment and making money. Life is not about making money, there is more to life than that. How about just wanting to understand the world better and our society so that you can help to change it and make it better.

    According to this logic, i am the primary beneficiary of my secondary school education. Shall i take a loan out for that too? Then spend decades of my life paying it back, reducing the money i have to save for a deposit for a house or helping my children be educated.

    • ladytizzy
      13/12/2010 at 8:55 pm

      Talk of twisted logic! On the one hand you want businesses to pay for students, on the other you argue that a university education is more than just about employment and money.

      I agree, to a point, that businesses should contribute but how? I don’t need graduates, neither does Tesco (well, maybe one or two). If you justify taxing all businesses regardless of need, you end up justifying taxing graduates. To continue with this logic, it is clear that those who graduate with the most desired qualifications are subsidising those who wish to study Ancient Norse.

  6. Lord Blagger
    13/12/2010 at 3:57 pm


    Also i would challenge your assertion that it is the individual that gains the most. I would argue it is business that gains the most. They gain the educated work force which then allows them to make lots of money. Then they dodge their taxes so that they don’t pay for the massive benefits that they receive. How on earth is this fair????

    Business don’t pay taxes. They only pay taxes on behalf of people, employer’s contribution to an employee’s benefits. VAT for the consumer. Corporate tax for their shareholders. At the end of the day, its all down to people.

    The problem is that the government wants the students to pay the cost of education. The government also wants the benefits of that education in tax.

    If the student takes the investment risk in their education, they should get the benefits and not the government.

    • ladytizzy
      13/12/2010 at 6:49 pm

      Lord Blagger, if you want to target a sector that benefits from the largesse of the taxpayer, do some homework on charities, which include universities.

      It is fair to have a go at the tax-avoiding businesses, and those who do deals with HMRC, but you really cannot say that businesses don’t pay taxes. Business rates are a straightforward example, another is the Class 4 NIC, a separate and specific tax based on what HMRC considers to be profits but which I call my income. Of course, whatever is left over is then taxed again as income.

      Whatever makes you think that NICs are anything but a separate tax? There is little that remains of the original intentions and Class 4 does not provide for any additional benefits – it’s a straight, additional tax.

      Then there are ways that I pay more than you simply because I run a business, for example paying five time more for planning, even though it’s the same people doing what they are paid to do in the first place.

      • Senex
        17/12/2010 at 10:53 am

        It wouldn’t surprise if some bishops pay Class 4 NI them being soul traders an all?

  7. doctoralph
    13/12/2010 at 4:37 pm

    At the moment when my children finish Uni they will be in substantial debt and so will I. With the new proposals we all will be in even greater debt. And remember the crisis we are in now was caused by debt. The feeling of being tens of thousands of pounds in debt is not good, even though they (my daughters) won’t have to pay it back for a good while. However many of the decision makers won’t know this feeling nor ever experience it.

    We all know however that they will reach a point when they will have to pay it back, probably at exactly the same time that their children are starting University and so here is the double whammy!
    And when they try to get a mortgage what will the banks ask. Do you have any outstanding debt? Will the banks be worried that they don’t have to pay this debt back right now, I don’t think so!

    Organise people into small groups and ask them what they would spend a million pounds on to make a difference and on every occasion after a short debate they will all agree – Education

    We all know that Education is relative to the wealth of a nation so why we want to cut funding to ours and put all the people who are the most likely to contribute to the wealth of nation in debt from the off is beyond me.

    Unfortunately we have got to the position were we just don’t believe what we hear anymore especially from Politicians who now are prepared to lie openly. Its very clear they can’t be trusted.

    We are all tired being told “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” by Politicians.

    Putting students and their families in debt for the rest of their lives is not the answer and is just storing up trouble for the future….I fear student protests are just the start…….I hope I am wrong.

  8. Nick B
    13/12/2010 at 4:46 pm

    Its the 80+% cut and the direct cross subsidistaion by students that is at odds here. Our publicly funded HE system is I believe the best in the world and deserves to be treated as a valuable national asset (having already sold off the rest of the family silver). Our prosperity and future for all of us depends on maintaining this investment. Future personal debt is supposed to be avoided. The whole approach feels very risky and very questionable in terms of political mandate.

  9. Dave H
    13/12/2010 at 6:15 pm

    I think the important point is that there are too many students, many of whom are doing degrees that won’t benefit anyone but the student. The sad thing is that the engineering and medicine degrees are likely to be the most expensive and so even less popular than now, further depriving the country of graduates in disciplines where there is already a shortage.

    On a personal note, I stand to gain from this because I’ll be an experienced professional in a field where the demand exceeds supply and is likely to remain that way, so I’ll have more choice of better-paid jobs. Those grinding their way through the sausage-mill of unwanted (by employers, at least) degrees are going to be fighting for the few interesting jobs in their field and the competition will drive down the wages offered.

    My father, who watched “The Weakest Link”, tells me that Ann Robinson asks students who appear on the programme what they intend to do with their degree and most don’t seem to have a clue. He says she doesn’t ask the engineering students, presumably because she assumes they do know.

  10. 13/12/2010 at 7:10 pm

    I’m shocked that Baroness Murphy has the nerve to accuse students of being “extra-ordinarily misinformed.” The problem with trying to dismantle what is at present a world-class university system, is that the people affected tend to be quite well-educated.

    The Baroness asks “Why would they protest about a system which will be cheaper for the majority, widens access to more students, will exert more pressure on universities to respond to local student opinion on quality and will see their education providers less likely to go bust?”

    These questions are in fact not only “extra-ordinarily misinformed” but also naively narrowly focused. Firstly university will not be cheaper for “the majority”; most students will ultimately pay vastly more for their education.

    Secondly, the pressure on universities will not be to respond to student opinion, but to spend far more on glossy PR brochures and gimmicks, and then to massage grades and drop standards in a bid to artificially sustain “student satisfaction”.

    Thirdly, universities are only “likely to go bust” because of years of shameful under-investment by governments who have increased student numbers on the cheap. Education is in large part a public good, and state investment should recognise this.

    This bill has to be seen in the wider context of the draconian and philistine cuts to teaching budgets, as well as the Government’s plans to increase the number of private for-profit degree-granting institutions (I shan’t call them universities; they are not). The coalition is privatising English higher education, and the country will suffer greatly for it. The Baronesses naive sanguinity in the face of this is chilling.

  11. 13/12/2010 at 7:10 pm

    I’m shocked that Baroness Murphy has the nerve to accuse students of being “extra-ordinarily misinformed.” The problem with trying to dismantle what is at present a world-class university system, is that the people affected tend to be quite well-educated.

    The Baroness asks “Why would they protest about a system which will be cheaper for the majority, widens access to more students, will exert more pressure on universities to respond to local student opinion on quality and will see their education providers less likely to go bust?”

    These questions are in fact not only “extra-ordinarily misinformed” but also naively narrowly focused. Firstly university will not be cheaper for “the majority”; most students will ultimately pay vastly more for their education.

    Secondly, the pressure on universities will not be to respond to student opinion, but to spend far more on glossy PR brochures and gimmicks, and then to massage grades and drop standards in a bid to artificially sustain “student satisfaction”.

    Thirdly, universities are only “likely to go bust” because of years of shameful under-investment by governments who have increased student numbers on the cheap. Education is in large part a public good, and state investment should recognise this.

    This bill has to be seen in the wider context of the draconian and philistine cuts to teaching budgets, as well as the Government’s plans to increase the number of private for-profit degree-granting institutions (I shan’t call them universities; they are not). The coalition is privatising English higher education, and the country will suffer greatly for it. The Baroness’s naive sanguinity in the face of this is chilling.

  12. 13/12/2010 at 9:10 pm

    Baroness Murphy, I agree with you entirely, as I wrote back in October.
    http://jonathan.rawle.org/2010/10/17/tuition-fees-proposal-almost-a-graduate-tax/

    People must realise this will not leave students with a debt similar to a mortgage or credit card. The repayments are linked to earnings, so there is no risk. Lose your job and you simply don’t have to pay.

    As for completely cutting public funding for certain subjects, as is often claimed, that simply isn’t true. The loans system is designed to be heavily subsidised so that many people don’t pay back anywhere near the full amount. It’s just that the means testing is now on the actual graduate and the job they take on finishing, and not on their parents’ income before they even start studying.

    I also agree about people being misinformed – I bet the majority of protesters have never read the Browne report. I am quite shocked to hear current students say they wouldn’t have been able to go to university with fees at the proposed level, even though they must know they don’t pay fees up-front even with the present system. And it’s equally horrifying to hear intelligent, educated people saying they don’t know whether they will be able to afford to send their children to university, when actually the idea is they need not pay a penny.

    • Carl.H
      13/12/2010 at 11:04 pm

      Jonathon did you read this :

      Internal government figures, seen by The Independent on Sunday, reveal that a small minority of students paying fees of up to £9,000 a year are expected ever to pay them off in full. Ministers believe most graduates will spend their whole working lives making monthly payments to cover their loans and interest – without ever being able to settle their debts.

      Peter West said the combination of inflation and interest charges meant many graduates, including teachers, would never reduce the amount owed.

      He said: “The Government tells us that those earning under £21,000 will not have to pay interest on their loans. But they will have to pay inflation in line with the Retail Prices Index, which is currently 3 per cent higher than the base rate of inflation.

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/only-a-quarter-of-all-graduates-will-pay-off-loans-2158168.html

      Ovewr the assumed 30 year period they could be paying back far more than the £9000 a year.

      Peter West goes on:

      “If you ask anyone what paying no interest on a debt means, they would say the amount owed stays the same. The Government is being dishonest about the implications of this system.”

      • 14/12/2010 at 4:23 pm

        Carl H: the point is, settling debts over 30 years isn’t an issue. After 30 years you no longer have to pay. To pay £27,000 over 30 years means £900 per year, which in turn means a salary of £31,000 per year. Anyone who earns less than that on average over their career will not pay back even the capital borrowed, let alone any additional interest. Irrespective of how much people earn or pay, the system is in effect a graduate tax for 30 years. What a pity they couldn’t have called it that – they may well have prevented most of the protests!

    • Gareth Howell
      14/12/2010 at 9:28 am

      Jonathen’s post is surely the most enlightened and objective.

      If you ain’t got a job and you still have debt to pay, then you stop paying it. How else could it be? Go on paying your mortgage, but lose your home?

      The baroness says:
      the primary beneficiary of an education is the individual themselves.
      but with the humanities, and many claim, in particular, with the Art/Fine art subjects, the individual gain very little pecuniary advantage at all, from her studies.

      I have sometimes mused that the pursuit of a worthless degree by myself, probably cost in historic earnings terms up to 1997, about a million quid.

      Had I not taken the degree, I would have earned a very good living!

      As in the Health services, so in Education,
      private is better, and hopefully opting out all together is by far the best mode.

      I know Carl will like that, with his Home edding background!

      The pursuit of statistically valuable “qualifications” is often a Chimera.

      If we applied a kind of Gaia accounting to it all, we would certainly find different conclusions all together.

      Statistics (and money) guides the syllabus and curriculum, and not, as it should be, the other way about.

  13. 13/12/2010 at 10:18 pm

    I think it is a bit cheeky to claim “they are extra-ordinarily misinformed”. I feel it is Baroness Murphy who is misinformed.

    Admittedly a proportion of protesters were there just to cause trouble. Of which a significant proportion were pre-uni (and probably wouldn’t make the grade anyway) or are on pointless courses at pointless uni’s (but that is another story).

    I feel as part of the first generation to graduate from university under the Labour party’s top-up fees, I can say it was a failure. University education isn’t a business. If it were it would be value for money, teaching contact hours would be proportional to cost of that degree… Sadly this is not the case.

    So what will trebling fees achieve, focused students, maybe raise standards?

    I doubt it; if the Government takes a significant proportion of the teaching budget away.

    No, for me it would have meant the same quality education for £36,000 (4 year Masters)plus at least £20,000 living/eating costs. Therefore a ‘debt’ of £56,000. instead of £32,000

    I realise this debt lives with the Government, and is only ‘collected’ when you are capable of paying through PAYE. But firstly how is that different from the top-up fee system? And secondly this is still DEBT just in a different form and carries the same negative connotations.

    I am grateful to the Government for the support I received at university. I don’t have anything near the debt stated above.

    But I am someone from a ‘poor’ background that everyone would like to talk about. I like to think I can talk from experience, rather talk about something I have not witnessed.

    If I were to be going university in 2012? I wouldn’t even apply.

    There are many more points I could cover…

    But what would I do?

    Tuition fees can work, but then no fees would work better. Yes, the average man who didn’t get the chance to go university would pay. But wouldn’t the graduate (who would supposedly earn more) pay more tax over a lifetime, therefore mitigating this problem?

    We need to go back to the drawing board and work from the ground up. Do we need so many uni places? do we need so many universities? Should we fund courses based on quallity?

    Rushing through ill-informed legislation based on the Browne report, without proper consultation is educationally criminal.

    Hopefully the Lords will make a difference tomorrow…

  14. AlexR
    14/12/2010 at 12:32 am

    Dear Baroness Murphy,

    I disagree with much of your argument, but I will make just a few points here. Firstly, your opening paragraph contains a clear factual error. You say that “only those graduates who eventually get jobs above the average salary will pay anything”.

    On the 17th November, the IFS withdrew its assessment of the policy after a clarification from the Department of Business: the 21K repayment threshold is in 2016 prices, which, allowing for inflation, is perhaps ~18.5K today: well below “average” (median) income. This was reported in plenty of mainstream media sources.

    You are remarkably disparaging about the student protestors, calling them “extra-ordinarily misinformed”. On the contrary, those whose financial future is at stake, and their supporters, have every incentive to study and understand the detail of the proposals put forward. It’s not the misunderstood threat of having to pay upfront fees that put many people off, it’s the lose/lose outcome afterwards (you will spend your next up-to-30 yrs either under a debt obligation rising with RPI inflation, or poor, having failed to reach the threshold). Add to this the risk that future governments might, and probably will, change the conditions at any time. Of course all this will make life relatively easier for those with rich parents, who will graduate owing nothing.

    I recommend an interesting analysis in this Sunday’s Independent: http://tinyurl.com/2f9rg2k

    You were lucky to be born with high ability in your generation, meritocratically selected and able to study medicine for free. It’s sad you don’t judge your medical education to have been primarily of public benefit but primarily in financial terms as of value to yourself. (Perhaps you should repay the full costs plus interest now, on top of your income taxes?)

    Your lack of misgivings (“Rarely have I felt more positive..”) is jarring, for a policy that has already incited such anger and protest. Remember (to paraphrase MP Julian Lewis) that even if you genuinely believe this is a fair policy, if you cannot convince the people it’s fair, then it will fail. I hope that you will reread and consider the proposals again very carefully before you vote today; the public are counting on you as our representatives to understand the facts properly in order to properly scrutinise (and if necessary reject) this contentious legislation.

  15. mcduff@beta57.com
    14/12/2010 at 3:44 am

    Maybe some of the protestors wanted to study English Literature, or History, and were disturbed by the fact that the government believes the humanities to be luxuries? Possibly because the government is full of philistines…

  16. mcduff@beta57.com
    14/12/2010 at 3:48 am

    Also, hasn’t anybody in government heard of this thing we used to do called “progressive taxation”? It’s a time-tested way of making sure poor people don’t contribute more than they have to and rich people contribute enough. Perhaps people should look into it, I hear it’s not actually as complicated as completely shafting the tertiary education system based on a misapprehension of the applicability of the EMH.

  17. Mac
    14/12/2010 at 12:04 pm

    Maybe we should consider retrospective payment of tuition fees for all those graduates who went thru university on the old grant system. That seems entirely fair and equitable.

    • 15/12/2010 at 1:19 pm

      Mac: entirely fair an equitable of course, because all those previous graduates who no longer wish to take the course 20 years ago can give back their education.

      And next time you go to the supermarket, the security man at the door will pull you over and say, “You know all that food you bought last week? Well, the prices have now increased by 500%, so pay up.”

      • Lord Blagger
        15/12/2010 at 3:40 pm

        That’s pretty much the approach of the Lords and the rest of parliament.

        A debt is when you spend money, pay latter.

        A debt is when you take money up front, for a later service.

        6.8 trillion of debt, and that’s without the forced spending.

        With half the people in the UK having savings of less that 5,500 pounds, they can’t afford any retirement. Let alone the 2,000 a day retirement home that’s the Lords.

  18. mcduff@beta57.com
    14/12/2010 at 1:51 pm

    All these people claiming that their degrees were paid for by lower earners make me wonder. Is it that the graduate premium is less than we have been led to believe? Or is it that they have been studiously avoiding paying tax? Or is it just that none of them did a maths degree?

  19. Gareth Howell
    15/12/2010 at 10:09 am

    The modern mania for “qualifications” is mania indeed. It overlaps in to the Trades in such a way that some people are fearful of setting up as carpenters or plumbers because they are not “qualified”.

    When I was 16 I could have become an articled clerk to a solicitor. I did not want to.
    By the time I was 25-27 and though it might present an acceptable alternative to being a low cast teacher, it was an all graduate profession. Today you have some obligations to study law all the way from A level, if you want to be a solicitor or barrister.

    The more higher education you get the lower and lower are the PAY prospects for the work that you end up doing.

    If you train as a plumber or Carpenter or electrician, who have varying status, you may earn, as a self employed person, a good deal more than anybody who has spent three years getting a penpushing degree in the humanities, and who will do nothing but penpush for ever afterwards.

    What is the argument all about?

    Talking yourself down? Talking your occupational prospects down?
    Earning less?
    Doing nothing?

  20. baronessmurphy
    15/12/2010 at 2:44 pm

    Lots of comments and I’ll try to address some key issues so far. Lord Blagger first: you say ‘The game is that they have to pay up front by borrowing and taking the risk.’ No, there is no money to be paid up front and students and families do not therefore need loans anymore. Read the legislation? Jon Walls, yes I agree there is a serious case to be made for taxation funded higher education and enjoyed your piece but this past 30 yrs we have seen a tax funded system gradually starve the universities of funds to the point where few are now internationally competitive. If money were no object there would be a case, but that’s not now reality. Carl H it is true that society benefits from widespread higher education but overwhelmingly it is the individual who benefits most. Of course many of you have suggested I and people like me who benefitted from a free education should now be made to pay up. Not such a bad idea, I wouldn’t protest if the deal was the same as the one suggested now. Of course now I’m an unemployed pensioner I might claim exemption! Good to have your support Croft and I agree with you about the EMA. Not much evidence that is was an effective bribe since it went to those who had already decided to stay on at school. Doctor Ralph your gloomy prognostications suggest that students and families will be put off going to university but there is no evidence that these changes will put them off, nor that the contribution will be as crippling as you think it will,
    Jamie, the notion of affordability isn’t so strange is it? It’s perfectly legitimate for a government to decide that it can fund 20% of the population in higher education but not 50% of the population. Of course it’s about choices, perfectly legitimate ones. David, I stick to my assertion that students wouldn’t be protesting if they realised how much better off they’ll be without loan debt and a payback system over time. See Jonathan. Many of you have commented that I shouldn’t be so pleased to be voting to support a system I approve of in the light of all these upset students. Nonsense. If anyone can come up with a fairer system than this which will provide universities with sustainable funding then I’m listening. But just saying ‘taxes will pay’ is now wholly unrealistic and has been detrimental to the health of universities and their responsiveness to students for many years.

    • mcduff@beta57.com
      15/12/2010 at 3:31 pm

      “No, there is no money to be paid up front and students and families do not therefore need loans anymore.”

      Because we’re genetically engineering students so that they don’t need food and shelter, or what?

      “Carl H it is true that society benefits from widespread higher education but overwhelmingly it is the individual who benefits most.”

      Really? How? Why? What metric are you using to define “benefits” here? Are you talking purely in economic terms? How are you measuring the relative benefit of a history degree to the individual compared to society? Should we not also be considering the social good of public education in general as much as the effects of any individual BA in English Literature? Where did you do this research?

      It seems that this claim is the underlying basis for a bill which represents the most fundamental change in the relationship between higher educational facilities and the state since early last century. Where does it come from? What is the evidence for it? What assumptions underpin it?

      “David, I stick to my assertion that students wouldn’t be protesting if they realised how much better off they’ll be without loan debt and a payback system over time. “

      Would the academics still be protesting about the massive cuts in teaching funds?

      “But just saying ‘taxes will pay’ is now wholly unrealistic “

      Yes, I’m sure we all know where the frames of the Overton Window are right now. That doesn’t mean that this policy isn’t regressive, backwards and ridiculous. It just means that the current crop of politicians can’t do maths or use their imaginations.

      Progressive taxation might well be outside of the capacity of “decent” or “realistic” thought when the upper class idiots have been running the asylum for so long, just like many sensible policies that would have prevented a massive banking crash remain unthinkable even after a massive banking crash. That’s not an argument that the policies are bad, just that the political culture of this country is too intolerably corrupt and self-serving to implement them.

    • Lord Blagger
      15/12/2010 at 3:47 pm

      No, there is no money to be paid up front and students and families do not therefore need loans anymore

      =================

      So, you’re making the statement that students have no loans when they finish their education?

      Carl H it is true that society benefits from widespread higher education but overwhelmingly it is the individual who benefits most

      So if the student take the risk buy borrowing and paying via the loan, why should ‘society’ benefit by taking the proceeds of that investment?

      In reality, you want it both ways. You want the students to fund, and you want to penalise them with high rates of taxation for that social benefit.

      Of course now I’m an unemployed pensioner I might claim exemption!

      Lets have you attendance allowance.

      If you’re in favour of increased taxation, how much did you voluntarily pay to HMRC last year? It’s always there. They will accept your money. Now about 10 people did, and I’ll bet you weren’t one of them. i.e. All talk and no trousers. Lets force other to pay.

      The students are a bit smarter than you think. They’ve spotted the fraud. Namely you fund it and pay for it. Oh and we will carry on taxing you as though we have funded it.

      There’s a better way. It’s called cutting spending.

      1. We axe the lords and save 600 million over five years. That funds quite a few scholarships.

      2. Students who fund get a lower rate of taxation.

      3. All benefit claims are published online. When people see that some claimants have received over 500,000 pounds, you won’t be able to resist cuts in that area.

      With the cuts on the non-productive, there will be more money for the productive.

    • Senex
      17/12/2010 at 10:51 am

      BM: Point of order! Your overall reply took 428 words when the recommended limit is 250. Respondents can avoid breaking blog terms and conditions by replying to individual posts.

      “Of course now I’m an unemployed pensioner I might claim exemption!”

      Anybody peer forced back into employment after retirement may call:

      “Age Exemption Helpline Tel: 0845 302 1479
      Deals with enquiries on National Insurance Service for individuals who continue to work after state pension age. The Age Exemption Certificate entitles individuals who work after state pension age to be exempt from paying National Insurance Contributions.” HMRC

  21. Carl.H
    15/12/2010 at 3:38 pm

    “There is no money to be paid up front and students and families do not therefore need loans anymore. Read the legislation?”

    Loans and maintenance grants
    The Government will lend any eligible student the money to pay the university or college for tuition costs. For the first time, part-time students will be entitled to a loan and no longer forced to pay up-front costs, so long as they are studying for at least 25% of their time. A new £150m National Scholarships Programme will be targeted at bright potential students from poor backgrounds. It will guarantee students benefits such as a free first year or foundation year.
    Students from families with incomes of up to £25,000 will be entitled to a more generous student maintenance grant of £3,250 and those from families with incomes up to £42,000 will be entitled to a partial grant.
    Maintenance loans will be available to all eligible full time students irrespective of income.

    http://www.bis.gov.uk/news/topstories/2010/Dec/tuition-fees-student-finance

    ” But just saying ‘taxes will pay’ is now wholly unrealistic”

    Interestingly this is now what I say about the House of Lords.

    “It’s perfectly legitimate for a government to decide that it can fund 20% of the population in higher education but not 50% of the population.”

    But to do so with a system that will be detrimental to those who are clever but poor is not wise.

  22. Baroness Murphy
    Baroness Murphy
    16/12/2010 at 8:44 am

    Carl H, I’ve lost your plot; I can understand that you don’t like the new scheme but let’s think about what your attitude would be to one of your daughters taking out a mortgage to buy a house. This would be a burden, one she might choose because in the long run she may believe that owning a home is in her best interests. The costs of a mortgage are infinitely greater than a repayment of a student loan. Wouldn’t you be supportive of your daughters having a mortgage on their education, another very worthwhile investment for her future? It’s clear that students were not put off by the current fees system, why do we think they will be put off by an alternative and less onerous system?
    McDuff, I accept that the Coalition wants to change the way universities have been entirely dependent on taxation and central control for funds for this past 50 years. This is not because they believe that education isn’t a public good, so are the arts but we don’t fund them wholly from the public purse. The compact between universities and the state has been detrimental to the competitiveness of our institutions. Government needs to support and foster higher education, not run it.

    • Carl.H
      16/12/2010 at 9:34 am

      Would you accept your child of 17 years old accepting a mortgage ? Aside from the fact that type of loan is unobtainable at that age.

      It simply isn`t common sense is it, you want 17 year olds to commit to 30 years of debt.

      I have shown in other links evidence that experts think the new scheme WILL lead to a downturn in poorer students and that is without what the Government intends with cuts to Education below this level which will have an effect. An overall 60% cut to education, school leaving age rising to 18 meaning 2 full years more in secondary school, where is the money going to come from for that ? The prime purpose of a privatised business model is profit there is little profit in the poor.

      You state they don`t need loans anymore but evidence states otherwise.

      “Under our new more progressive repayment system, around a quarter of graduates, those with the lowest lifetime earnings, will pay less than under the current system.”

      So 75% will pay more.

      http://www.bis.gov.uk/news/topstories/2010/Dec/tuition-fees-student-finance

    • mcduff@beta57.com
      17/12/2010 at 10:37 am

      ” The compact between universities and the state has been detrimental to the competitiveness of our institutions.”

      There’s that word “competitiveness” again.

      It is, as laid out in the Browne report, all about that, isn’t it? Forget this whole “why should the poor pay” idiocy, that was only a red herring. What this is about is “student choice” and “making universities work like markets”.

      Tell me, Baroness, what is it that you think the universities are not delivering that an attempt to redefine the structure of the British university system into something jerry-rigged to emulate the Americans? Because “competitive”, in my experience, always seems to translate into “screw the poor”.

      We must have a “competitive” economy so that companies want to come here, so say goodbye to your wages and benefits. Nobody ever uses competitive to describe an economy people want to *live* in. The question is, competitive for *whom*?

      So who is this competition supposed to help? What are the mechanisms by which the market will create better education here when it never, ever manages that anywhere else? Why will Britain benefit from the creation of a multi-tiered tertiary education system?

  23. Lord Blagger
    16/12/2010 at 9:31 am

    I can understand that you don’t like the new scheme but let’s think about what your attitude would be to one of your daughters taking out a mortgage to buy a house. This would be a burden, one she might choose because in the long run she may believe that owning a home is in her best interests

    However, the set up that you want is this.

    The daughter buys the house. After 10 years, the government comes along and says, look, you’ve got a valuable asset here. We need some of it for the public good. We’re going to rent out 2 of your bedrooms to someone on housing benefit.

    The second difference, you get into financial trouble later in life, so you sell the house, pay off your debts and are left with a bit of extra cash.

    Invest 70K in an education, and it doesn’t workout, what are you going to sell? A kidney?

  24. baronessmurphy
    21/12/2010 at 4:25 pm

    McDuff, competitiveness in higher education means being able to compete for the best academic brains internationally, both students, teachers and researchers; being able to teach students to emulate the finest intellectuals in all fields; being able to attract funding for innovation, being able to produce the finest scientists and humanities graduates we can. Whether we like it or not we do compete internationally, not to do so will mean we lose our finest oversees. We already do in some sciences.

  25. mcduff@beta57.com
    21/12/2010 at 7:13 pm

    [dear moderators, previous version had some bad html in it, please post this one instead]

    [dear moderators, I am awful at closing tags. This one should work. Pretty please for a preview button at some point?]

    Who’s this “we”, Paleface?

    The fundamentals of the Browne report explicitly call for competitiveness between universities within the UK. Which is an interesting way to theoretically create a couple of elite institutions and a race to the bottom for the rest of them, but not very good if you want to raise the general level of HE nationwide. But never mind that for now.

    Again, what is it precisely about *these reforms* which will increase our so-called competitiveness? You keep describing the activity and the result but I’ve never seen anyone tell anyone else how that mechanism is supposed to work.

    One wonders whether you ever read things like this

    “Professor Steve Smith, President of Universities UK, said: “It remains a striking fact that higher education in the UK is second only to the United States by a variety of measures, but we spend less than the OECD average as a proportion of GDP.”

    That seems to indicate, to me, that we were already both “competitive” and comparatively cheap to the public purse. I wonder exactly how you reckon we’re likely to increase our already quite high reputation by cutting funding?

    You might have also benefited from reading this Times HE article

    “Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “These figures make very disturbing reading. It should come as little surprise that countries who invest more public money in higher education have fewer young people not in employment, education or training. We simply cannot afford to be left behind when it comes to funding our universities, yet we are investing considerably less of our GDP than competitor countries.”

    With this, public investment in HE will be among the lowest of OECD countries. That’s the way to international competitiveness, is it?

    That’s, of course, assuming that all the measures of competitiveness are the right ones, which, if we read things like this right, we should be wary of assuming as a blanket measure. Particularly if our response to making such assumptions is to remove 80% of the funding for HE.

    What’s the mechanism by which removing funding will improve returns, please?

  26. Lord Blagger
    21/12/2010 at 7:22 pm

    Here’s one reason why the education budget is being slashed.

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/finance/ianmcowie/100009100/hmrc-targets-middle-class-tax-evaders/

    A spokesman for HMRC said it is spending £900m on anti-evasion measures, including training an extra 200 criminal investigators, and it hopes to prosecute five times more people for tax evasion by 2014.”

    900 million / 200 = 4.5 million a head training up new inspectors.

    Nice work if you can get it.

    Meanwhile students are being forced to borrow so the government can tax them more.

  27. Lord Blagger
    21/12/2010 at 9:52 pm

    What’s the mechanism by which removing funding will improve returns, please?

    ==============

    It’s not removed is it?

    The government is stopping its funding, and making the student fund.

    Mind you, its not cutting the tax rate accordingly for graduates either.

    Two bites at the pie.

    Same as double, triple taxation of earnings.

    You earn, it gets taxed. Spend and it gets taxed.

    You earn, it gets taxed, invest and make a profit, it gets taxed. If you die, even that gets taxed again.

    • mcduff@beta57.com
      21/12/2010 at 10:57 pm

      If universities charge the £6000 rate which the coalition is suggesting they will, it will represent a drop in available funds per student.

  28. drmjweait
    22/12/2010 at 6:24 pm

    This is the tragedy. First, and generally, universities and other HEIs that have committed themselves fully to widening participation are, typically, more dependent on government support through T (Teaching) funding. They have tended to lack the endowments and research culture that bring in the additional income that help develop and sustain support for the arts and humanities. Removing the T funding will have a disproportionate effect on these HEIs, and – because poorer students may be less willing to take on the burden of debt necessary to pay for a degree in philosophy, or English, or history – these subjects will cease to be economically viable. Result? We will end up with them being institutionally supported in a handful of elite institutions, studied by a handful of elite students whose six A’s at A level are the product (mostly) of having had their secondary education paid for, or who are so poor that the institution can cream off some of the additional fee income from the rich kids, don the garb of Little Miss Bountiful and allow the brilliant and impoverished few access to the groves of academe and so satisfy their “commitment” to widening participation.
    Second, with particular reference to part-time students, many of whom are older and are seeking to re-qualify, there seems to be no (or very little) recognition that such students already have debt and other financial obligations (mortgages, children and other dependants, credit card bills etc). While it may be possible to make a case for the introduction of full tuition fees (though it is not a case I have been convinced by) for first time undergraduates, the proposals will disincentivise those who wish to go back to study from doing so.
    Finally, I have yet to see any evidence that supporting the sciences at the expense of the arts and humanities is economically justifiable, let alone ethically so. I suspect, if people were to be asked what the UK can be proud of, answers would include its artistic and literary culture, its museums, its print and broadcast media, (especially the BBC)and its film industry. These generate significant contributions to the economy, and it would be interesting to see what proportion of those in these industries studied the subjects which the Government does not think it worth subsidising. It wants a return on its investment, with no investment.
    With respect, to characterize the plans as “excellent” seems to me to reflect an ideological position, rather than one justified by the evidence, the economics, or core educational values

Comments are closed.