Whilst traditionally opposing paying for university in any way, the National Union of Students (NUS) recently unveiled proposals to introduce a graduate tax as a replacement for tuition fees.
After years of intense pressure from universities to raise tuition fees, the NUS, fearful of poorer potential students being excluded from higher education in the future, has proposed a compromise plan whereby students would not pay for their education but graduates would be charged fees based on their income for 20 years after they graduated.
Specifically citing the economic crisis NUS President Wes Streeting called Vice Chancellor’s arguments to raise tuition fees “laughable” and stated that NUS plans would allow universities to more than double the money they receive whilst allowing children from poorer families to go to university without the fear of un-payable debt.
The NUS plan to avoid a tuition fee hike and indeed to abolish tuition fees all together would however mean taxing graduates.
Under the current proposals the highest earners would pay 2.5 per cent of their earnings to a trust fund which would share the money between universities and the lowest earners could pay as little as 0.3 per cent.
To put this in perspective, currently university leavers can be in debt to the tune of£ 10,000, but under the NUS proposals someone earning £16,000 a year would pay roughly £1,200 overall for their education, almost a tenth of what they are expected to pay now. However, those earning £40,000 a year would pay £30,000 for their education over the 20 year period.
The reasons cited for the NUS proposals are that they will encourage poorer families to send their children to university in a way that the current arrangement does not.
The NUS argues that sharing this graduate tax between universities via a trust fund will avoid creating a market in higher education, a problem with proposals for a variable tuition fee arrangements whereby university tuition fees would be determined by the market and reflect league table positions.
The NUS is essentially trying to ensure that higher education does not become the sole purview of the wealthy. However, James Dorrell, a second year engineering student, does not believe that the system would entice more people into universities saying that students “won’t know how much they will pay” and that this uncertainty will in fact be a deterrent.
Another Warwick student, Robert Bagshaw, a second year History and French student, thought that the scheme was unfair on those students who went on to become high earners saying that it would, “just encourage even more people to study ridiculous degrees at second-rate universities, safe in the knowledge that in all likelihood someone else would probably end up paying for it as their degree is barely worth the paper it’s written on”.
Other students have been more positive Becky Bruce, a second year Politics student, thought that “if these proposals make universities more open to potential students then, they must be a good thing”.