Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Thursday, 9 December 2010

When I went to King's College London in the 1970's about 10% of the young people went to university. These days, the number is about 45%. The last government had a target of 50% which the Coalition has scrapped. This dramatic increase in our student population mean that it is no longer possible to run the old grant system, i.e. for the tax payer to pay for it all. Tuition fees and a student loan system were introduced by the last government several years ago.
The argument is a simple one. Why should the majority of the population who do not go to university pay their taxes to enable a minority to get a degree so they can get a better paying job? Of course a doctor, lawyer or engineer will pay more in taxes on their higher incomes and their work is of national significance, but still they are the primary beneficiaries of their degree. Should a manual worker who leaves school at 16 help fund it?
In order to reduce the amount of tax payer's money currently being paid to the higher education sector, we propose to increase the tuition fees to £6000, or in exceptional circumstances £9000. This will ensure we still have world beating universities. But it is worth remembering:
1)    No student has to pay up front, the fees are paid by a government backed loan
2)    No student has to start to repay the loan for the fees until they earn £21000 a year
3)    Students from the poorest backgrounds will get additional help.
Even after the proposed changes we still have just about the most generous support system anywhere in the world.
It does mean that graduates leave with debts of £20,000+ which is far from ideal. But I know from my own two now adult children that they do not consider this a capital debt so much as a monthly payment which is deducted first from their salaries.
We should certainly not discourage bright kids from modest backgrounds from going to university. I believe that these new proposals will not do that. But if they encourage every young person to seriously consider whether higher education is right for them, and making an informed decision, that is no bad thing. At the moment perhaps too many are going to college to study obscure subjects that may not help them enter the world of employment as rapidly as they might wish.

posted by Gary @ 14:51