Is it Really Cable or Just a Wire in Disguise?

Posted on July 15, 2010


By Christopher Dingle – Vice President Education, Kingston University Students’ Union

The Secretary of State for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, today gave a speech suggesting a graduate tax as an alternative system for funding students in the future. Whilst we should all welcome his suggestion to the Browne committee, is this really a change, or a convenient rebrand for those liberal democrats who don’t want to vote against their NUS pledges because of the coalition agreement?

The average student debt is now over £23,500 per graduate. This staggering figure is hung around the neck of our gradautes, whilst we not only charge them interest on this amount, but we also expect them to reinvigorate the economy and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. We need to reassess our expectations of the university system; the public, the government and students all.

The graduate tax question is not one of nomenclature, but one of substance. We could very well call the current system graduate taxation. Graduates who accrue debt from their university funding currently repay it to the government from their pay packet in the same way tax or national insurance is paid. This currently happens once a graduate starts earning over £15,000 per annum.

But if Mr Cable tries to redress the current system in the guise of a graduate tax, then absolutely nothing is acheived. Students will still suffer at the hands of intransparent systems from universities where often hidden charges strike after tuition and students will continue to be sadled with unsustainable levels of debt.

A fair system should see a taxation system where people are taxed progressively based up on their earnings. We should live in a system where if you earn more, you pay more, if you earn less, you pay less. No system should burden nurses with the same level of contribution as an investment banker. We should be enabling the population in this country to bring about growth, not burdening it under a weighty system where people must struggle to drag us out of the economic mire.

It is also true that universities must change their expectations. Students are now no longer willing to sit down and be told they must pay extra, or that isn’t covered by your tuition. Students and universities must ensure they have shared expectations, both of what is expected from the institution and what the outcomes of higher education should be both to the student and in the wider national context.

Ultimately we won’t know what this system is for some time. At the moment, the idea is a mere suggestion to the Browne committee who may decide it is not worth looking at. However if the government produces proposals for a system that is fair, progressive and transparent, then we should support and embrace it.

If, however, the government think they can con us with a new name, they are sorely mistaken. We don’t want a wire, we want a Cable of significantly more substance.