Friday, January 21, 2011

I'm a bit of a numpty but ...

I don't pretend to know anything about politics. I don't pretend to know anything about the monetary system and fiscal policy. In fact I have a deep misunderstanding of numbers - so deep it's at atomic level - and can barely count to 21 if I'm naked. Or 20 and 1/2 in cold weather. However, it strikes me that the whole student tuition fees debacle is missing a major trick.

The argument put forward by the Tories/Libdems is that it's not fair to tax the public to pay for students to have free higher education. They argue that it's fairer to give the student a loan to cover their fees and then, if upon graduating, the student gets a job that earns more than £21k per annum, they can start paying the loan back. And, you know what? It kind of sounds fair and practical. However, there is a third way surely?

We are in the midst of a global recession it's true. However, there is still plenty of money out there, especially among the large corporations. Something like the proposed Robin Hood Tax would easily pay for higher education without causing major losses. In fact, it could work as advertising too with scholarships and courses named after the benefactors. Companies would be investing in the education of their future staff and management.

My worry is that the higher fees will encourage students to go for courses that are more likely to land them a well-paid job ... so that they can pay off their fees debt. After all, no one wants to study for a career that pays bugger all. And where's the incentive to study hard for a mid-range paying job? £21k a year isn't that much these days, especially in the South East where renting even a one bedroomed flat will set you back around £700 per month. Add a huge debt on top and it could be crippling. This would lead to dwindling numbers taking courses that don't traditionally lead to lucrative careers. I'm thinking here of things like fine arts, poetry, sociology, philosophy etc. If that happens, the courses will shut down leaving more spaces for the lawyers, accountants etc.

What kind of a pressure are we placing on young shoulders by making them panic over the dreaded £21k threshold? It's very sad. And so easy to fix.

Isn't it?

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