UK splits over university fees and taxation

This is turning out to be quite a week for the fissiparous tendency in the British body politic. As students demonstrated against the prospect of 80% cuts in tuition funding throughout the nation, it was the Welsh Assembly government which stole the march on the others by promising to pay the difference between the present fees and the £6 to 9,000 a year universities will soon be able to charge. What’s more, the subsidy will extend to Welsh students studying anywhere in the UK. It seems this largesse will be funded at the expense of teacher education. The move is bound to raise student temperatures all round,  particularly among the massed ranks of the less favoured English. Cameron, Clegg and Co can only hope that the  Welsh will find the bill unaffordable in the end and that any differentials will disappear when it comes to the actual reckoning.   

Through gritted teeth no doubt, the SNP government is warning that uni fees, scrapped with fanfare two years ago, will soon have to be reimposed, at a higher rate presumably,  so the shock to Scottish students will be all the greater. A similar warning has been issued at Stormont. 

Will NI students receive the Welsh treatment, especially the extension to locals studying across the water ? Very unlikely, I’d guess, as for one thing, the powers that be will want to  keep them at home and do all they can to halt the brain drain. ( Incidentally I wonder what the figures for the drain are?)

The issue of  greater powers for the Scottish Parliament and the Assemblies in Cardiff Bay and Stormont will in their different ways, start to hot up soon in advance of next year’s elections. Of greatest significance is the Scotland Bill to deliver  tax varying powers to Holyrood that they Scottish government will actually implement, whoever wins power. The BBC’s Brian Taylor neatly lays out the threats and opportunities. Stand by for endless political jockeying between now and next May’s elections.

A narrow Welsh majority is declaring in favour of greater powers too according to a BBC poll – although only 37% say they’ll definitely vote in next year’s referendum. While in Belfast, Mark Devenport draws a blank in a search for enthusiasm for a lower local rate of corporation tax in the bowels of the Treasury.

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  • Dewi

    Less favoured English? It might be a quirk but as a Welsh taxpayer I’m subsidising English Universities…really can’t understand why we’ve applied the rule to Welsh students studying in England – very strange.

  • tolpuddlemartyr

    The student fiasco! Even the students haven’t a clue why they’re demonstrating. It’s a me me me culture we live in. They’re young, they should be thinking out for the rest, not just for themselves.
    ‘ Students have nothing to say…..’

  • Dewi

    And how, philosophically, can anyone be in favour of Calman’s convoluted nonsense but against independence??

  • Banjaxed

    The French have (or used to have – I’m not sure what the current situation is) a system in which third level education was free but that the student had to enter into a legally binding contract that he/she would work in France for 10 years after graduating. Its purpose was so the student could return the benefits of the higher education to the country which paid for it and also to reimburse the costs in his/her taxes. It also postpones an immediate post-graduation brain drain. I realise it might be a little complicated in the UK if the regional authorities pay fees but the student wishes to study in another administrative area. Nevertheless, I wonder if the powers that be have ever considered a similar sytem.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    “What’s more, the subsidy will extend to Welsh students studying anywhere in the UK.”

    It is clealry a nonsense and one the Plain People of England will presumably not wish to tolerate.

    Sending MPs from Wales and the other colonies to vote on Education for England is also clealry a nonsense. The number of MPs from the colonies should be halved at least and the remainder have their pay cut and only turn up and vote on issues that concern them (if they feel te need.)

  • Johnny Boy

    I struggle to side with students agitating for so called “free” third level education. The free education of the past everyone seems to be pining for merely allowed the middle classes to send their kids to Uni on the backs of working class taxes.

  • Banjaxed

    Johnny Boy, since when were working classes, or their children, disbarred from going to uni? My parents were working class (father worked, mother did everything else!). It didn’t stop any of us going to uni, graduating and ending up in (mostly) well paid jobs. Of course, no fees changed hands then and I therefore doubt very much, had the current proposals been in practice then, if a similar outcome would have occurred now.

  • Banjaxed

    Apols for the rather tortuous last sentence above (3rd level ed, me arse!) but,.IMHO, the *NEW* Labour Party, may they roast in hell, started this rot by pulling the ladder up behind them after they had received all the benefits of a free education. The Con-Dems are, however, now hacking at the rope tethering the ladder.

  • John D

    JB’s argument about “working class taxes” (and variations on it that we keep hearing from Coalition advocates) is a nonsense. Are working class taxes different from others somehow? We all pay taxes for things from which we don’t or won’t benefit — from nuclear submarines to the Royal Opera House. Aren’t we supposed to be “all in this together”?

  • Barry the Blender

    Banjaxed’s point, or lack of, is that under current proposals the working classes can’t get to uni, is rather silly. No fees change hands, just go to the Student Loans Company.

  • The problem that the Students have with their argument is that in the minds of the majority, there is no moral justification for their fees having to be paid for by taxpayers that did not go to university. The average graduate earns six times that of an average non-graduate worker. A low earning graduate (less than 21,000 pa) will not have to repay their student loan. If their education was free, graduates would still for tuition fees in later life though taxes (albeit shared).

    In the minds of most that are watching these demonstrations, these are young people with an immature perspective on how public services should be funded. They might break a few shop windows or set light to an effigy of Nick Clegg. Nevertheless, are very unlikely to be taken seriously. Welsh Conservatives take note.

    greater powers for devolved institutions

    The argument of some nationalists is that greater devolution is a stepping stone to independence.

    Unionists should ignore that kind of argument and concentrate on what is best for the constitution overall. There is no doubt that there is a narrow-mindedness in regional politics that leads to populism. Without responsibility for raising taxes, it is so easy for local politicians to blame the Government for not giving them enough money. In fact, they are shielded from broader arguments about the economy and fiscal responsibility.

    I have not yet thought through how devolved fiscal responsibility would work in Northern Ireland. In a power sharing administration, would the Finance ministry suddenly become the ministry no party wants to have? I put that down as a marker for future debate.

  • Barnshee

    In a power sharing administration, would the Finance ministry suddenly become the ministry no party wants to have?

    Most definitely be accountable for raising tax? not a chance

  • Banjaxed

    If Barry removed his brain from his blender he might wish to read my posting again in which my very first sentence dealt with the misapprehension that ‘the working classes can’t get to uni’. I went on to express my fears that because of the imposition of fees plus the proposed punitive increase in same might deter students from a working class background from attending uni precisely from a fear of getting into the downward debt spiral which Barry appears to recommend. My own daughter was saddled with a student debt of almost £25K when she finished her studies. It’s not a situation I would recommend to anyone especially when, as is rumoured, the banks are proposing to raise the current low interest rates on student loans to a more commercial rate. Happy days if you’re a banker but a millstone of stress for most others.

  • Johnny Boy

    Banjaxed, congratulations on going to Uni, but your personal experience doesn’t alter the fact that people from low income families are much less likely to go on to higher education (and therefore benefit from free higher education)than those from middle and high income families.

  • Dewi

    “The average graduate earns six times that of an average non-graduate worker.”

    Where did that come from?

  • “The average graduate earns six times that of an average non-graduate worker.”

    You beat me to it Dewi. The figure Seymour mentions sounds waaaay out. I bet many graduates here would love to have ANY multiple of a non-grad salary, let alone six…

  • Dewi
  • Banjaxed

    Johnny Boy
    ‘are much less likely to go on to higher education’

    I wouldn’t disagree with that statement at all; the evidence is there to support it. However, they will be even more ‘less likely’ to go now! As far as I can see the only ones who wiil go from here on in are those who can afford to take on a mountain of debt.

    And this is where my grasp of the government’s proposals falls. If, as we’ve been led to believe, our current financial mess has been caused by profligate lending and borrowing, culminating in debts the like of which have never been seen before, how come the present administration is so keen to hobble the next generation to the coffers of the same robber-barons who caused the problems in the first place?

  • Dewi, BG

    Sorry, I relied on info I received from somebody else (normally reliable) without checking it.

    The average graduate can expect, over a 40 year period of working life, to earn £400,000 more than the average non-graduate or £100,000 more than the person who starts work after obtaining A level qualifications.

    The case for a graduate funding their degree out of their own pocket is still overwhelming. Of course, you can always talk about how stressful it is for somebody to have a burden at such a tender age. Well, life is tough.

  • Johnny Boy

    I don’t see the problem with those who benefit directly from a University education contributing directly towards it from their future earnings. I personally believe a graduate tax to be a more desirable option, but tax or loan, the total repaid would probably amount to the same. The only differential to me is how much it costs to administrate the system.

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    It’s a pity that so much of the coverage of the protests (and some protestors) present this as all about fees. Scary as the prospect of paying off your own student loan until after your children have left university is, the fee increase is the least of it. We’re watching the privatisation of the nation’s higher education system, an issue that has not been publicly debated, let alone voted on.

    The idea that marketisation will just result in a few crap universities and subjects disappearing, having little impact on good students and none at all on the general public, is nonsense. Students shape the way towns and cities across the UK function – you can’t remove the incoming student population, their creativity and their disposable income, and not see even more dying high streets.

    Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing fewer people go to university, as long as they were the right people. These changes are going to mean both fewer people going, and those that do being even more skewed towards the affluent rather than the capable.

  • Glencoppagagh

    Student debt is so cheap that any rational person would fill their boots especially when repayment is conditional.
    Those who are deterred from university on grounds of debt are so witless that they are probably unfit to be there on intellectual grounds.
    And of course before fees were imposed, no graduate ever dreamed of taking on a mortgage, it being such an enormous debt.

  • dodrade

    I do wish instead of resenting the “celts” (for want of a better term) policies on student loans and tutition fees that it would occur to little englanders to lobby Westminster for the same benefits rather than take them away from the devolved nations.

  • RebVolley

    Third level education should never be the preserve of the wealthy, but it should be the preserve of the intellectual elite. The idea that fees can be paid off when you get a high earning job means that we are loosing sight of valuing education for education’s sake; we also risk loosing those subjects and those students who may not be going into it for the job at the end of it, while simultaneously telling those that could thrive in the workforce that the only way to do so is to go to university, because everyone is doing so.

    My sister and I both recall that when it came to sixth form, the idea that you should, even must, go to university was the overriding theme from both parents and teachers. Working class parents especially, seem to think that it is their duty to push their children towards university, and it has become the norm that everyone should apply and try to get in, despite grades that wouldn’t have got you an interview let alone a place in ‘clearing’ 30 years ago. As a result the system is under intense pressure and the options of on the job training are sub standard. A reform of the university system would make more sense, moving degrees that needn’t be university taught into the business sector, the cost incurred by the businesses that would eventually benefit from the workforce produced.

  • Framer

    The explanation as to how the Welsh will pay the fees is very sparse. Something to do with university teaching or teacher education reduction.

    Can any one fill in the details?

  • lover not a fighter

    If I were English I would not put up with it !

  • Alias

    Student unions would better serve their members by starting a temp agency for employers seeking part-time workers. That way, the union could use the profits to offer lower membershp fees to the members and the members would be able to sell their labour to earn money for their fees rather than demanding that other workers sell their labour instead and have the state transfer their income via taxation to a bunch of lazy brats.

  • RebVolley

    @Alias, as far as I’m aware the Student Unions don’t charge for membership anyway and most universities will have an on campus job shop (I know Queen’s does at least). Many students work part time in addition to study, either within the union, university or local business. The wages earned simply contribute to cost of living, most won’t be bringing in the £9000 per year needed for fees. Calling student lazy brats is a misconception of what it’s actually like to be a student, especially if you move away from home.

  • Alias

    Well, at 9k a year then the obvious conclusion is that person will have to earn the money before he can afford for his course. I see no reason why others should do that work for them and pay for their career oportunities via taxation. Most of these courses are career-related, so they should invest in their own earning potential just like any other self-serving person is required to do.

  • Alias

    Incidentally, unlike the pampered Northern Ireland, this debate is already over in Ireland before it began. Tax revenue is half the level it was when ‘free’ education was provided, and more than half of that tax revenue is now allocated to sovereign debt repayment and will no longer be available to provide other state services. So, going forward, citizens can afford half a quarter of the services that they could previously afford. Whatever money the state has will be reserved from essential services only.

  • RebVolley

    And what about those who want to study degree pathways that aren’t geared towards a high wage career, particularly arts and humanities? Do we risk valuable academic insight being lost, or do we assume that only the rich have the ‘luxury’ of studying these subjects.

    No one expects the student to pay up front, if they did, most people would have to enter the workforce first then return to study as we’re not conditioned as a society just yet to have provided trust and college funds for our offspring, though it looks like we might have to start. Those who go to uni will one day pay taxes too, as have their parents before them, so this is hardly a case of sponging off society.

  • Alias

    Reb, non-career courses offer no benefit to the state so there is no argument to make there for a state subsidy either. Besides, we now have an open immigration policy throughout the EU so the UK can easily import any organisation that needs to employ poetsand painters that it feels it might need, so these folks can persude their art interests in their spare time like all of the great artists have done.

  • Alias

    Here’s a typo-free version:

    Reb, non-career courses offer no benefit to the state so there is no argument to make there for a state subsidy either. Besides, we now have an open immigration policy throughout the EU so any organisation in the UK that needs to employ poets and painters can easily import any that it feels it might need, or these folks can peruse their art interests in their spare time like all of the great artists have done.

  • Alias

    Incidentally, what great artists were produced by this statist idea that that institutions of the state could manufacture artists via a modular study course? Damien Hirst? Well, if he is an example, then he’s from Irish stock so there is one advantage of an open immigration policy. He’s also rich, worth over 200 million via his art, so there is an incentive for ‘artists’ of that ilk to pay for their own course as investment in their earning potential.

  • RebVolley

    “non-career courses offer no benefit to the state so there is no argument to make there for a state subsidy”

    For that argument to be true you’d have to accept that there is no part in social policy to support the intrinsic value garnered from non career courses, which I do not agree with. Just because something doesn’t have an immediately visible monetary value attached to it, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth retaining.

    I see you make the association when I mentioned the arts, with high earning artists. A huge proportion of the arts community exists at community and grass roots levels, they are not raking it it, but still provide valuable services. Why should they be put off honing their skills at university simply because they are not going to be high earners when they leave?