Friday, 16 July 2010

Graduate Tax

When I was studying in higher education in the 1980s all my tuition fees were paid by the government. In fact students received maintenance grants to study for degrees. I think most people remember those days but it is a worthwhile reminder when you consider the suggestion that is now in the news for a graduate tax. Students now take out loans for their tuition fees but it must be fairer to ask a high earner to pay back more for the training received in order to earn that extra money.

Universities don't like the idea of a graduate tax because the money has to go through the government and then be passed on to the university. They feel some money may not get to them. Students who have trained for work with high earnings feel penalised because their predecessors have not had to pay extra tax.

The answer seems so obvious. Have a tax system that pays for higher education. It sounds radical because the fundamental problem is that we are finding 'academic excellence' in far too many of our youth. We need to return to a time when to matriculate meant that your name was part of a small list going to university. Wanting everyone to become academically excellent may be an admirable aim, but it can't be achieved just by matriculating and graduating everybody. There needs to be some way for employers to distinguish between those who have differing aspirations.

Also, to tax graduates regardless of what field they may aspire to is to force them into those fields where personal financial reward is more-or-less guaranteed, ignoring whatever more intangible benefits might arise from greater diversity or from career choices which benefit the country as a whole but which are not the most high-paying. Is that really what we want?

Change the world.

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