Friday, June 11, 2010

David Willetts: Students "a burden on the taxpayer"

David Willetts has been in the news for saying that cost of students is "a burden on the taxpayer" and that they should consider tuition fees "more as an obligation to pay higher income tax" than a debt".

I have a lot of sympathy for the view that Labour's 50 per cent target was arbitrary and not well thought out, but two things about Willetts' comments occur to me. I am not sure if they are contradictory, but here they are.

The first is that if we had a more progressive taxation system then it might be possible do away with tuition altogether. Those who earned high salaries due to their education would pay more tax and everyone would be happy.

The second is that there is something decadent about a society in which one generation is no longer prepared to pay for the education of the next. As so often, the problem with modern Conservatives is that they are not Conservative enough.

2 comments:

Tristan said...

I was just reading Colin Ward on education - his contention was that education, especially higher education, is a redistribution from the poor to the rich.

This was in the early 70s - I doubt much has really changed though...

Phil said...

When government (or anyone else) funds education, they do not know the outcome. Whether to centrally fund schooling for five to sixteen year olds is a no-brainer; even if the children do not learn, it functions as a behavioural control system. But we have zero knowledge about what Jak will do when leaving university; Jak doesn't know either.

Post sixteen years, educational choices are primarily those of the student (noting the existence of pushy parents). So why not give them a pool of money that they can spend on education -- enough to pay for A Levels or an apprenticeship, with some left over for a start in other education. Those who wished to pursue a degree could apply for a grant in the knowledge that they would pay more tax. Apprentices who wished to improve their skills might find a course that they could fund from their education pot.

I think that my proposals are rubbish, but better than the status quo. Perhaps there are two problems to be solved:
1. Vocational or part-time qualifications are under valued. Many students would be better served by an education that is not "full time degree".
2. If government is happy to pay £18,000 of tuition fees for an undergraduate student, why don't other students have the same pool of money? Assuming that they are subject to the same payback rules as undergraduates.