U-TURNS AND A SENSE OF REALITY

The government’s higher education White Paper is expected in the coming week.  I’m sure ministers will be wanting to avoid anything that the press might depict as a U-turn.  That could prove difficult.  I hope at least that presentation of the funding proposals will reflect reality.  The government’s response to the Browne Review at the end of 2010 talked of fees and loans in a way that failed to represent reality but succeeded in frightening potential students and their families.  The reality was (still is) that government would pay fees on students’ behalf, and might succeed in getting up to 70% of that money back (over a very long period) through the tax system, in what should have been called a ‘deferred graduate contribution’.  Higher education would continue to be tax-funded, but the tax base for perhaps 50% of total expenditure would no longer be the population as a whole, but the 40+% of the population who benefited from HE. Graduates whose careers didn’t lead to well-paid jobs would pay little or nothing back.  That sounds very different from the rhetoric on both sides of the argument, but it is the reality of the proposals.  Far from agonising about how to spend all the money they are going to save (the 80% reduction  in spending trumpeted by the press) the government’s main worry at the moment is how they going to afford the package they have proposed – at least in the short-term.

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