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Friday, December 05, 2003

Top up Fees

The big argument for top-up fees is that the Government needs to fund Universities to educate the huge numbers of students now going onto higher education. They argue that it is unfair for the taxpayer to do this as the vast majority of taxpayers will not benefit from this expenditure. Personally, I have never made use of Social Services but that does not stop me contributing to this service nor does it prevent me recognising that my money is being well spent in protecting children and helping the elderly and infirm etc. Nor does this argument recognise that the graduates of today are the managers, scientists, and the leaders of the future. The Country will directly benefit from the investment in their education and therefore there should be no objection to us paying for it from general taxation.

Universities argue that the Country can never afford the £9 billion that they estimate is needed to invest in higher education. They may be right. The problem with this argument is that top-up fees will never raise £9 billion. According to newspaper reports this morning of an Institute for Fiscal Studies report they will in fact raise about £1.4 billion and half of that will come directly from the public purse to cover those whose income prevents them being able to afford the fees. That leaces £700m that will be invested in Universities as the result of the imposition of top-up fees. The cost of that investment will be massively increased student debt, some of the brightest and best students being put off going to college and a two tier education system in which the better-off get a better education.

Given that the product of a 50% tax rate on those earning more than £100,000 would be in excess of this £700m I think the argument that the Country cannot afford to pay for this investment in higher education out of general taxation has been blown apart. Clearly, we can afford to put this amount of money into educating the leaders of the future and a lot more as well. The Government is cutting off its own nose to spite its face, the problem is that many others will suffer as a result of this hubris.


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