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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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Absolutely confirm this -- overseas students are a complete godsend to the university system. I've taught on courses which would absolutely be uneconomic to run without the high proportion of overseas students wanting the benefits of a British university education (and I think we do provide a good education for that money).

God knows what will happen if this cap on non eu immigration cuts those numbers down further reducing university income.

(Deleted comment)
That the courses are only run in the first place because the overseas students make them economic?

Well, in my experience many of the more talented stay on in the UK after university and a source of PhD educated science and engineering students is always useful. In the crude economic sense they also tend to be wealthy (otherwise they couldn't afford the fees) so they're a source of money for the wider community (as that's where they're buying their clothes food and housing for the duration).

Incidentally, I think competing against overseas students for places is largely a myth. In the courses where I've had active involvement with student recruitment the rules we worked to were "we have room for this many funded places for UK nationals and as many self-funding people as we can get" (the latter could be UK, EU or non EU -- non EU is better because they are clear profit whereas UK/EU sort of break even). In other words, I never saw a case of a UK student who did not get in because of a non UK student.

(Deleted comment)
Well, I must confess I am hardly neutral as for years my wages partly came from income from foreign students but for me it's a great win-win situation. They get a good education and we (both in the narrow sense of the uni and in the wide sense of UK plc) get their money.

Overseas graduates of British universities are to be found in governments, industry and NGO's across the globe. Its a very important means by which we project 'Britishness' across the globe, and the knock on impact on our trade, culture and indeed out diplomatic relations is incalculable.

Not to mention a reasonable number of the world's top engineers and scientists. The 2009 nobel prize for chemistry went to Charles Kao who did his PhD here at UCL.

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