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Deja vu

So, Vince Cable is proposing a graduate tax. Haven't we been here before?

It's been a while since I posted about HE funding (posts passim), but it's worth repeating some of the highlights:

  • Back in 1997, the Dearing Report recommended that because "those with higher education qualifications are the main beneficiaries [of higher education], through improved employment prospects and pay", "graduates in work should make a greater contribution to the costs of higher education in future". The report goes on to recommend an income contingent scheme along the lines of the Australian Higher Education Contribution Scheme.
  • Richard Gombrich's article from 2000 is still worth reading, and an indication of what HE is likely to suffer in the lifetime of this government.
  • Roy Hattersley was generally right in 2002, and he's still generally right now.
  • The then Education Secretary Charles Clarke heavily hinted at a graduate tax back in 2003. It didn't happen. Instead, we got top-up fees by a vote of 316:311.
  • A graduate tax will not be hypothecated, therefore Universities UK will not support it.
  • A graduate tax will take over forty years to reach steady state (being the period between graduation and retirement), but HE will continue to require support from other sources during this period. Ignore this at your peril.
  • David Willetts is wrong. Before he starts calling for us to "give more value to students and taxpayers", he should be aware that per-capita tertiary funding fell by 50% over the twenty years to 2000. During the same period, staff:student ratios fell from 1:9 to 1:17 (or 1:23 if research funding is excluded). The increase in funding under the last government did not substantially correct this. How much more value does he think there is to give?

I could say more, but not without repeating things that I've said over the past decade.

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Per-student-capita funding declined by 50% from 1980-2000, yes. I believe that both per-capita funding and funding as a proportion of GDP also declined over the same period, but I don't have the figures to hand.

Look at the figures from UCU here: http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/html/losingvitalinvestment1.html

Also, look at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1468-0297.00102

funding as a proportion of GDP

Ah... it's all about choosing your metric eh. Start in a recession and then compare with GDP.

Student numbers more than doubled between 1980 and 2000


827,000 in 1980 to 1,939,000 in 1998.

So if your "declined by 50%" is right then the actual amount of funding rose -- although not by very much at all. Indeed almost criminal to expect the system to cope with a tiny increase in funding and a doubling in the number of students. Surprised US system spends so high a proportion of GDP on HE (From UCU pages). That's a worrying message -- if proportion of GDP is your metric then make mum and dad pay it. That would be awful.

Well now that would seem to be the problem - not that Universities are underfunded, but that NL screwed the pooch with this insane push to get everyone to go into higher education.

I would respectfully disagree there. As a long time researcher and lecturer I believe inclusion in higher education is extremely positive and should quite definitely be encouraged -- I just wish they'd give us the damned money to do it properly.

In any case the push started long before then -- huge increases from 1980 to 1997.

"I believe inclusion in higher education is extremely positive and should quite definitely be encouraged"

Meh. The problem is, we don't need 50% of our working population to be holding degrees and complaining bitterly that they're not higher rate tax earners. It's a waste of money over-training a significant proportion of the population, not to mention cruel to raise the expectations falsely.

It's a waste of money over-training a significant proportion of the population, not to mention cruel to raise the expectations falsely.

Hmm... I would agree to the extent that not every job requires a university education indeed not every job requires literacy but I hope you would agree that the latter is a fine aim. In general a university education broadens the mind to the extent that it is a valuable thing to have even if not necessary for your job.

As for raised expectations, I would say that is actually a positive to hope that you can achieve even if, ultimately you might not.

There's also the point that people who underachieve at 18 can thrive in the university environment and turn themselves around. I've definitely seen students with poor grades at A level turn it around and achieve an excellent degree. If they simply went to the world of work at 18 then that would be a disaster.

Also, to be honest, it's much much better having all those people in the university sector training than simply on the dole. So in the absence of magical new jobs being created ex nihilo they are better off learning.

"So in the absence of magical new jobs being created ex nihilo they are better off learning."

So they can go on the dole 3 years later, with significant debt, and a belief that because they now have a degree they're entitled to a much higher value job.

While I certainly agree with the principle that more education is intrinsically better, that would only work if the over-educated graduates were still willing to take the non-graduate level jobs that will still need filling.

So they can go on the dole 3 years later, with significant debt, and a belief that because they now have a degree they're entitled to a much higher value job.

Simplistically, given there are X jobs in the country and Y people with X < Y then having some of those (Y-X) jobless people at university means there will be fewer people on the dole. (I know it's not quite so simple). With the graduate tax idea the debt would not impact on them unless they are earning -- that used to also be the case for student loans and I thought it still was.

The big increases in student numbers happened before New Labour got into power: 650,000 in 1990 to 1,160,000 in 1997.

Do you have a link for some figures on annual admissions? My Google-fu is letting me down...

Look at HESA (the Higher Education Standards Agency). The qualifications obtained data is probably what you want.

Graduating UK domiciled FT students (first degree) by year:

YearStudents21 yo% of 21 yo

Part-time graduating students are typically less than 8% of the full-time graduating students each year, and the proportion remains roughly constant.

Over the period from 1994/1995 to 2008/2009, the proportion of full-time overseas and EU students (compared to the total number of full-time students) studying for a first degree increased from 8% to 15%.

As these figures show, the number of UK students graduating from UK universities increased by roughly 25% between 1997 and 2008. Since 1997, the proportion of 21 year olds graduating with a first degree (that they've studied full-time for) has stayed roughly constant at 30+/-1%


I haven't been able to get figures for the number of enrolling students, but I'd be surprised if the drop-out rate has changed significantly during this period. Consequently, I've assumed that a first degree is three years, and that students enrol at age 18 and graduate at age 21. The population figures come from the ONS here, and the student figures come from HESA.

Edited at 2010-07-18 02:33 pm (UTC)

Or, from a different source (http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s000839/index.shtml):

This estimates participation differently; it takes enrolment rather than graduation (the Higher Education Initial Participation Rate), and does not make the simplifying assumptions about the ages of students that I do. Consequently, my figures systematically overestimate the population who *could* become students, and underestimate the population who *are* students (in part because I only look at FT students).

On the other hand, my intuitions about retention and drop-out are broadly correct; the drop-out rate remains static at roughly 8+/-1% over the period 1999/2000-2006/2007.

The PDF linked from that site gives FT HEIPRs that vary as follows:

1999/2000: 34%
2000/2001: 34%
2001/2002: 35%
2002/2003: 36%
2003/2004: 35%
2004/2005: 34%
2005/2006: 37%
2006/2007: 34%

Not a great deal of variation, I think you'll agree. The HEIPR for FT/PT combined - which is what Labour wanted to rise to 50% - stayed in the 39-42% region in the same period. Hardly the increase that we're being lead to believe by our new masters.

Edited at 2010-07-18 03:35 pm (UTC)

Sod it - this needs a new post.

To be fair, it was an increase that was loudly enthused about by our old masters too. I still think that it's idiotic to have that 50% target; in fact I think any target is pretty questionable, and the 50% figure is probably about twice as high as it should be.

Shouldn't the top tier of education in this country be, by definition, elitist?

Thanks for this data -- I hadn't realised things had slowed up quite so much.

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