Thursday, 18 November 2010

A cunning plan to finance education for the public good

This is from a quality article in today's Guardian. It makes sense to me.

The current frontbenches, in all political parties, illustrate the kind of person who went to a top university when tuition fees did not exist – people from intellectual, financial and class elites. There may be many more universities, and many more students. But the introduction of tuition fees has not much changed that past demographic.
Actually, those more expensive educations at more prestigious institutions, unless the Russell group gets its way and no cap is placed on fees, are likely to be subsidised by the inflated fees of students receiving cheaper educations at less prestigious institutions. It has already been predicted that no university will stay far below the cap, because a "cheap course" will advertise the institution and its course as "less good". Not so very progressive. 
Browne and his allies will argue that his reforms will in some ways return higher education to its more stable past, but better. In all likelihood though, the elite will still go to the elite universities, which will have gone private, charging as they see fit. The bright-without-background will go to the public universities, which will come to seem more like polytechnics, except that the students will be paying for their betterment and any success that may come with it. Which group will bag the best careers? The already affluent, or the self-improvers? Like all market mechanisms, this one will ensure that the rich get richer and the poor, if they make headway at all, will do it more slowly, and more encumbered. 
How can one ensure that all who benefit from higher education contribute? The government benefits, because so many graduate jobs are in the public services. Employers of graduates benefit, because therein lie profits. Graduates benefit, and so do their proud parents, because therein lie achieved hopes and expectations. Society benefits the individuals in it to a greater or a less extent. How to neatly encapsulate all those benefits, so that all those who are enriched by them make their contribution? I can dimly imagine something that might work. It could be called "higher-rate general taxation". Or something.

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