Andy Cooke asks: What are the NUS demanding?

November 30th, 2010


Is the gap really quite narrow?

On the student fees issue – what exactly are the NUS demanding? Looking at their website their only real gripe seems to be that they want all courses at all universities whatever the duration to attract exactly the same price. So six years doing medicine at Bristol, or four years doing engineering at Cambridge has exactly the same effect on the graduate as a 3 year degree in basket weaving from Ex-Poly University.

Well, that’s the only explicit difference between their five requirements and the Coalition proposals:

The ‘five tests’:

1. End the market in course or university prices- it puts students off

There should be no ‘sticker price’ variation between institutions or courses, and direct price variation should be actively barred within the system. This ensures that students choose courses for the right reasons and ensures equality of opportunity at the point of use.

2. Ensure that graduates on low pay don’t pay; and set a maximum for high earners

There should be a lower threshold of earnings below which no payments are collected, balanced by an overall, single maximum amount that any person can pay in total. This ensures fair and proportionate treatment for both low and high earning graduates.

3. Only charge students a percentage of their earnings for a fixed period, it’s progressive

Payment should be made at a fixed percentage of earnings above a threshold for a fixed period. This ensures simplicity for users and also ensures that graduates with sustained high earnings pay the most overall, while those with sustained low earnings pay very little.

4. Don’t give the money to the state, ringfence it in a trust

Money collected should flow into a trust or other body that is controlled by the higher education sector, which is legally independent of government and accountable to Parliament.

The trust or other body should itself determine the rules for distributing its funds to institutions. This ensures hypothecation of resources to the higher education sector at a high level and ensures that overall control and shared responsibility lies within the sector.

5. Issue bonds to ensure that universities get the cash they need now

The trust or other body should be empowered to issue bonds on the market, or to other investors, set against future revenues.

It should be empowered to operate an ‘opt-out’ scheme whereby the graduate contribution is waived where a student agrees to pay the ‘maximum’ amount to the trust in advance.

These devices allow the money from graduate contributions to be ‘brought forward’, mitigating the risk of a gap in resources for institutions.

Issues 4 and 5 don’t really concern the students (I very much doubt any protestors will be chanting “Don’t give the money to the state, ringfence it in a trust”…), so of the three that do, Numbers 2 and 3 dictate a proportional payment over a given threshold (set so that the poorest don’t pay) for a fixed period, capped out at a maximum amount).

So, say: 9% of earnings above £21,000 for a maximum of 30 years, capped at however much you were nominally charged plus interest at about what the Government has to pay on debt? That would fit the bill perfectly, yes?

Hell, they’ve even got the ability to “pay in advance” for the richest students (or those where Bank of Mum and Dad can afford it).

All that the NUS are marching for is to insist that all graduates pay the same fees, regardless of where they studied, what they studied and for how long they studied. So why is it that they don’t make this explicit? Why did I have to go an look? Why isn’t it being shouted from the rooftops (of Millbank Towers)?

Of course, this isn’t to look at the implicit implications – if it’s a graduate tax (which their suggestions aren’t – they want it to be time-limited, capped and not go directly to the State, like – for example – repayment of fees), then all that would be needed to avoid paying it would be (as mentioned by so many others) to leave the country. No cash owing, so no problem. And, for EU students from outside the UK going home, a free education, courtesy of British students.

This is a comment that was posted on the earlier thread