national union of students

Graduate Tax – A better alternative to tuition fees?

The National Union of Students (NUS) has published a blueprint that suggests setting up a People’s Trust for Higher Education.  It is, they say, “A fund built mainly on contributions by former undergraduate students and their employers, and the employers of current students”.

NUS Blueprint

Rather than ramp up fees, lift caps and get universities charging different fees, the NUS blueprint asks for a form of graduate tax that would be paid over a fixed period of 20 years, based on your earnings.  The more you earn, the more you pay back.  This has been suggested as a reasonable alternative to implementing higher and variable fees.  In fact, it’s designed to abolish fees completely.

This blueprint has been written to stimulate public debate, rather than answer every question, rather than prove a solution to every problem, rather than explain a perfect system.

That said, it is still a clear set of proposals aimed at creating a fair system for all and encouraging widening participation.

The NUS state:

“Our proposals would end the very notion of a course fee or price, and shut the door on a market in fees. Graduates should contribute to the future costs of higher education according to their actual future earnings, so that those who benefit the most from university by earning more will contribute more, in order to give future students access to higher education.”

However, Nick Taylor brings up a valid point that the NUS suggestions could be “Funding Our Failures”.  He asks us on his blog to “think of an alternative that doesn’t persecute successful students and reward idiots”.

Taylor’s blog post asks a reasonable question, especially as the NUS blueprint specifically states, “Those who leave higher education and, for whatever reason, have only a very low income for the rest of their working lives, may pay nothing at all, and will have relatively little debt compared to today.”

Problem areas like this do need to be addressed, otherwise the system is open to abuse.  It is, therefore, up to us to contribute further to help introduce a system that works for all.  The NUS brings us closer to a way of funding HE using methods other than charging sky-high fees.  So now we have a more detailed, greater supported and generally talked about platform to work from and mould into shape.

Although an open statement, the NUS blueprint also starts to talk about the future of HE given the likely boost in revenue that’s been calculated.  They call for the funding to:

“be conditional on new measures to monitor and improve the quality of the student experience and the impact of higher expenditure in the higher education sector. We believe this should be focused on the outcomes of higher education and the extent to which it actually changes people’s lives.”

If widening participation is truly being taken seriously by the government, it should be made clear to all that HE can change people’s lives for the better and that it’s worth being a part of.  There will always be the ‘Wasters’ that Nick Taylor refers to, but I believe more can be done to persuade these individuals that they can achieve more to the benefit of themselves and others.  It won’t work for everyone, but this new blueprint should go beyond the debate of graduate tax versus student fees and look to the way in which individuals can be encouraged to make the most of their time within HE.  University looks like a laugh because it really can be a laugh.  That doesn’t stop it from being a positive and rewarding move in life at the same time.

Finally, the blueprint opens the way for better support of lifelong learning (which is something I’m all for).  The graduate tax would be related to the number of credits that people have studied.  That allows people to move in and out of HE in different ways and benefit without being hit with huge fees, just for trying to gain more education.  A graduate tax would still need to be paid, but in such a way to allow greater access and better participation.

I am pleased to see today’s blueprint and hope for a wider debate within HE because of it.  While we may not have all the answers right now, we’re certainly a lot closer to finding an effective and fair system of funding higher education.  Now it’s up to us to get working on filling in the cracks and building a system that works for as many people as possible.

The more of us who get involved, the easier that should be.  Let’s do it!

Related Links:
The Guardian – Wes Streeting (President, NUS) on the blueprint

The Guardian’s own take on the graduate tax

BBC News


Compass Online


Times Online

University and College Union (UCU) response to the blueprint

Million+ response to the blueprint

The Guardian has put up a voting and commenting page about “Graduate Tax vs Tuition Fees“.  Be sure to watch the comments both for and against!

NUS Awards 2008 – Winners

The NUS Awards 2008 were held on Monday night, hosted by John Sergeant.

Congratulations to all the winners on the night.  They were, as follows:

Endsleigh Student of the Year

  • Laura Sterling – The University of Birmingham Guild of Students

[Laura is Community Action Officer for Birmingham’s Guild of Students.  She is involved in the activities of students in the local community and reducing any negative feeling associated with students in the area.]

Student Unionist of the Year

  • Tobin Webb – University of Bristol Students’ Union

Tobin Webb

[Tobin (pictured above) is UBU President.  For more information on his role, check this article in Epigram Online, Bristol University’s student paper.]

Course Representative of the Year

  • Thomas Gyr and Timur Jan Pinar – Northumbria Students’ Union

Thomas and Timur win as School Reps for the School of Design at Northumbria.  The Students’ Union explains all the hard work they have done.

Participation Award

As stated on their site:

“The award recognises the fabulous work your Executive Officers and Representatives have done over the past year to increase your participation in the Students’ Union, including: the biggest student elections in the country, reforms to the JCR system, and great plans for a new Student Volunteer Centre to launch in September.”

Campaign of the Year

FE Students’ Union of the Year

One of the judges for this award was Lynne Sedgmore, CEO for the Centre of Excellence in Leadership.  She said of Derby College SU:

The work of Derby College Student Union is clearly outstanding. In particular, the thoroughness, honesty and scope of their impact assessment is exemplary. Their community engagement, international work and student advice centres alongside their online training for course reps, for me was the deciding factor in picking them as the winners.”

HE Students’ Union of the Year

Mark Willoughby - Sheffield

Mark Willoughby (pictured above) is chuffed about this award.  After all, he is President of Sheffield’s Union.  He gives the lowdown here on his blog.

Equality and Diversity Award

Students’ Union Publication of the Year

Student Journalist of the Year

  • Matthew Holehouse (Oxford University Students’ Union)