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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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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?

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

To be fair, it remains so but you have to remember it is streamed. Universities are far from equal. You get to Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, UCL you are pretty much guaranteed a damn good degree... without naming names, one university I taught at took in a year of masters students from a different university (which had shut a department) and they were a lightyear behind in terms of abilities. That's the difference between an upper middle tier university and a lower middle tier university.

I think it's a system which works pretty well.

The 50% target (including part-timers) is probably about twice what the participation rate was when you enrolled at Warwick.

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

Yes - I was quite taken aback by the figures. Given the current rhetoric from our supposed masters, and the typical views espoused by readers of right-wing newspapers forums ("universities are supposed to be elite - reduce student numbers by 50%"), the actual data tells a very different story.

To be honest, it's a bit shocking to me. I really thought the university sector expanded under new labour in terms of inclusivity. I genuinely believed we were educating more of the population.

Cool; I never realised I was in tune with readers of right-wing newspaper forums. I'd best check my Daily Mail subscription :)

That said, I do agree with your soundbite 110%


Part of the problem is that the FE sector has been even more underfunded than HE, and the abolition of the binary divide (between universities and polytechnics) in 1992 further narrowed the opportunities for students, particularly those who are less academic.

The Labour manifesto pledge from 2001 (and 2005) of 50% in HE (by 2010!) would have made more sense had the polytechnics been closer to the way they were before 1992, and had there been more funding for post-compulsory education in FE.

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