Browne report due

As always, this last couple of months has seen the announcement of A-level results and universities across the country gain a new intake of students. But what marks this year out from others is the looming question of future university funding.

University funding has always been an issue of contention but more so since the introduction of top-up fees in 2004 which have proved unpopular with students, not least because of the repeated inability of the Student Loans Company to deal with ever-increasing demand. However, the Browne Review, commissioned to investigate the state of university funding, is expected to recommend a substantial rise in tuition fees to the government. In response to this, solutions are being sought elsewhere.

One suggestion, previously considered as an alternative to top-up fees, is a tax on graduates, proportionally tied to their future earnings. Vince Cable, secretary for business, innovation and skills, has come out in the press as a proponent of this alternative. The suggestion is also backed by the National Union of Students but has met with criticism from government and the Institute of Directors who published a report damning the tax.

The main criticism leveled at the tax is that it is a disincentive for students to perform well at university as those who achieve better grades and secure higher-paid careers will end up contributing more of their earnings in tax. This, it is feared, could lead to a brain-drain on the UK as more gifted students look for opportunities to study abroad. But this seems drastic in comparison to the maximum proportion of tax proposed which stands at only 2.5 percent of earning which would be paid back over a course of 20 years.

The great advantage of the graduate tax is that it makes sure education is kept free at the point of delivery so education remains available to the many rather than the few. This can be contrasted with the possible rise in tuition fees which sees the most expensive rising to a possible £7000 per year. The tax is also likely to be popular with the public as hypothecation, the guarantee that a certain means of income will always result in a specific form of expenditure, provides transparency and accountability. But the same reasoning makes it unpopular with government.

Either way, if they are to be contributing more to their degree, students should be asking for tangible results when universities like UCL, it came out last month, are reporting profits of £12 million and paying salaries in excess of £400,000 to non-academic staff. It remains to say that the Browne Review, due to publish its findings this month, will be of great importance to the future of higher education.


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