Friday, 10 December 2010

Tuition Fees 3

Tuition Fees 3

This 'Tuition Fee Fiasco' is threatening to become the present government's 'Poll Tax'; a tax however sensible, that is so misunderstood and loathed it has to be revoked. Heads and windows are being broken and thousands of well intentioned youngsters are wasting time and energy protesting, but in ignorance of the true nature of "the beast". 

Shaun Ley on 'World at One' (Thursday 9th Dec., 2010) tried over and again to get the coalition minister Danny Alexander to explain how the present proposals for student loans is progressive; i.e. how it comes harder on the  better off than on the less well off.  Shaun Ley could not see it. The minister could not explain it, so he quoted the Institute for Fiscal Studies. "No!" said Shaun Ley, "I am asking you, as Minster."  It turns out that we (the public) don't yet know enough of the detail to make a sensible decision. Let us hope that Parliament does.

The media flash a headline, alarmist or scoffing depending on the political colour of the owner. But they seldom give us the proposals. I think this could be done quite simply in a 10 x 10 cm2  advert; not the analysis, justification, spin, excuses, apologies, etc.; just the proposals.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies does a good job, in websites that are available, but not accessible, to all. Even there one has to read between the lines ("we calculate that total the taxpayer burden.. " presumably means "…the total taxpayer burden.. "); and guess at the meaning of 'levy', 'discount' etc.

It turns out that the 'fairness' question hinges on [1] the rate at which the loan is paid back (9% of earnings), [2] the interest rate that is charged on the outstanding loan for every point on the salary scale above £21,000 pa, below which no money need be repaid, and [3] the number of years after which the debt is wiped (30). Without this information the question cannot be discussed as to of how "Fair" or "Progressive" the education burden is. Given only a 30 second 'sound-bite' the best that ministers can do is to shout over and over that "the bottom 25% of students will be better off", and that education is "free at the point of use", till they are hoarse and we are bored.

Nothing is free. The government's proposals aim to place the cost of education on the presumed beneficiaries. But the entire discussion presupposes that the 'benefit' of an education is a financial benefit to the educated. Were that the case, the proposals make a lot of sense. The system would adjust; graduate salaries would presumably rise to allow the loan repayments. But is that the only 'benefit', or even the main benefit of education. The benefit of street-sweepers is not the salary it brings the sweeper, but the clean streets it brings everyone else.

Occidentis, MORPETH

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