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Monday, 27 January, 2003, 12:59 GMT
University funding: What's the answer?
Students will have to pay annual tuition fees of up to £3,000 a year under plans confirmed by the government.
The fees will no longer have to be paid up-front, but it is predicted that students could leave university with average debts of up to £15,000.
The National Union of Students has opposed the idea of top-up fees, saying that those from poorer backgrounds will be put off coming to universities.
The government is expected to bring in a new regulator to make sure universities admit students from poorer backgrounds.
How can a regulator ensure that poorer students apply for university? Do you think it's fair to favour those going into lower-paid employment? Is a degree worth £15,000 of debt?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Anne Saunders, UK
I gained a First Class degree in Computer Science in June 2002 from a new university, (Kingston University). So did 3 of my friends. After hundreds of applications, not one of us is employed yet. We have yet to even be invited to an interview.
The sad fact is that employers want people from the old "top" universities.
This is an extra tax on women! If you accrue this debt and then decide to have a career break to bring up children, you have less time to repay your loan than men who stay in work. Therefore the choice to stay at home is removed - you have to stay in work to pay the debt. And it's still proven that women have lower paid jobs than men!
Michael Glen, UK
I couldn't have gone to Uni (in the '80s) without a full grant - my parents just couldn't afford to contribute anything as my father had been made redundant from a job that was well below average earnings for the time. How can today's students be expected to make a success in life when they could be facing debts of up to £18k (up to 6 years tuition in a top class uni to be a doctor, vet, architect etc).
I'm sick and tired of reading about how useless arts degrees are. I've spent most of my career working in marketing; the skills I learnt during my arts degree have been invaluable. From my point of view, an engineering or physics degree is a mickey mouse degree, as neither teaches skills that would be of any use in the environments I work in.
Cesar Izzat, UK
As a manual labourer and born when life was free and easy before 1960, I doubt I fully understand this issue. But wasn't the grants system fair? Give all students the same amount of grant, enough to study and survive for the duration of the degree course.
As a personnel manager (and graduate) I see daily evidence of the devaluation of degrees, I hate to say it but a degree is not an indication of ability or aptitude and now almost everyone has a degree of varying levels of usefulness. It strikes me that along with the essential services (doctors, nurses, engineers scientists etc) what this country needs is more skilled craftsmen, builders, plasterers, plumbers etc. their skills seem to be in really short supply, they are laughing all the way to the bank whilst the graduates work in lowly paid "macjobs". So you had 3 years of fun but who's laughing now?
I am still in debt from the degree I studied years ago because there are no jobs available to pay enough money to live and repay debts. I would have been better off if I had left school and got a job at 16 or 18 and worked my way up. All the hype about degrees securing you better paid jobs is a load of rubbish - they are just too common to be of value. My advice to those considering a degree at this time is to not bother. Get a semi-decent job instead and get your employer to fund your education. Oh - and as to those who suggest tax should be levied on all graduates, past and present - you are either out of your mind or you have no degree and no debt to cause you worry. Doesn't the government tax us on enough?
Fine, all the people in this country who got a free education because they were born in 1958 or thereabouts are keeping quiet I see. Well, maybe this will make them sit up. Everyone I know intends to qualify and leave Britain taking their salary and their tax contribution elsewhere. Good luck to you all.
We are being sold the ideal that with a degree we will all benefit from better wages and jobs. The job market is flooded with degrees. Money should be targeted on useful degrees i.e. sciences, engineering etc and not media studies and "golf course studies". Those who wish to study the arts and media and the like should attend local colleges and pay for it thus generating money for universities and those who want to study and actually use their degrees for the benefit of the nation.
D Hall, UK
The ever increasing cost of going to university is (sadly) going to put off people from all backgrounds going to University - not just "poor" people. I come from what would have been described as a working class background and 23 years ago my father was reluctant to help financially with my education - indeed I had minimal financial help from him. After successfully completing a degree and PhD I'm fortunate enough to be in a well paid job.
While a visiting student in the UK for a year, I noticed one excellent way for students to keep their debts at a minimum: spend less time at the pub. I found it quite laughable when UK students would complain about debt and then go blow outrageous sums of their loan checks on lager and ale. Try concentrating more on studies or get a job to supplement your income if the pub is just too important to you. I couldn't believe the outrage when it was suggested that university students get a job. For a university student to have a part-time job is not at all uncommon here is the States, so it is very feasible.
If the government could say they could guarantee that students can go into a job paying good salaries to enable them to pay back the loans without having to scrimp for a number of years then this could be a consideration.
Apprenticeships were a very worthwhile method of studying, both to the employee and employer. How many firms still offer this type of training/employment? If my children go to university, we will then both be in our 50s. As well as supporting them, we will also be needing to save for our retirement. Which do we opt to fund?
Phill, Bristol, England
I'm in my final year and my debt currently stands at £12,000. I am from a poor background and someone has suggested that I pay extra by way of a graduate tax - is £12,000 not enough? I am also disabled and my employment prospects are bleak. I might have to pay back my credit card and overdraft while working in a low paid job/on benefits. I went to university to improve myself not my employment prospects - I fully expect to be unable to find a well paid job.
What about students from abroad? And students from the UK who then go and work abroad once they graduate? How will the money be recovered from them? I was an overseas student in the UK, now living in the UK. Having had my fees paid by another government, would I still have to pay a graduate tax now I live here?
It leads to more suffering in society. People want satisfying jobs. Such jobs are getting scarce and the competition for them is immense. On the other hand, if someone has a strong passion for something then nothing will stand in their way.
Laurence, England bemoans the fact that graduates "take up jobs they really don't like in order to pay off debts." So, pretty much like everyone else then?
I believe that the answer to university funding is not to tax the students, but rather increase the requirements for entry so that only around 10% of people go on to university. For more vocational degrees, local colleges are more than adequate to teach people the skills they need.
Helen Shepherd, Wigan, UK
People doing degrees which are truly useful and will result in them getting long term employment and hence supporting the economy by paying tax should be fully funded by the state. Anyone intending to do media studies or any other similarly useless arts degree (good for the soul it may be, but good for the economy it certainly is not) should have to pay the entire cost of their degree up front. This should ensure that what the state funds, it will get back, and eliminate the complete waste of time and money that arts degrees are.
The introduction of top-up fees is an inevitable consequence of the government's own policy. The "non-PC" fact is that too many people are going to university. It would be far better to much reduce the number of universities, and provide the remainder with funding for grants. This could allow say 10% of each year's intake to come from outside the traditional elite.
Give good grants - but only to those people who are training to help the nation - doctors, nurses, scientists, teachers etc. Make them sign something that says they will fulfil a certain amount of working time in the UK public sector - if they breach this, they have to pay back the grant money within a certain time.
It will mean we get key workers and it will go to those that will have to spend a lot of time studying. Those that go to uni to earn themselves loads of money should be prepared to pay for it. Would they spend so much money if they didn't go to the Student Union every night?
I find it unbelievable that the government is planning to further the debt they have already introduced over the last three years. I graduated last summer and I don't know of anyone who has a debt of less than £10,000, my personal debt still stands at around £15,000, when you total student loans, overdrafts and credit cards that you have survived on for three years.
The thought of incurring such a huge debt before even starting out in the workplace was daunting enough when I was planning on going to university back in 1998 but if the figure was double this, as is now proposed, I am positive my decision to go to university would have been reversed, as I'm sure it will be for the thousands of A-level students currently looking at their options.
Cath Tomlinson, UK
In the US, students have dealt with crushing debts and high costs for decades, and university costs are still rising much faster than the rate of inflation. Yet somehow, Americans manage to obtain university degrees, own homes, and lead a decent life, all without a government handout.
On the other hand, the lack of funding creates a rather elitist system and it's difficult for someone of limited means to get a loan if they don't qualify for a grant.
The answer lies somewhere between the elitist American system and the British "something for nothing" system. The British cannot continue to expect the public to pay for them to receive degrees in largely useless subjects.
Next September I am hoping to go to university. On the funding request form, my parents have to indicate whether there are any other children in university at the time of study. My sister is in her third year and will leave as I join. My brother, if he chooses to go to university, will join just as I leave.
My dad estimates that university will cost around £50,000 for them to get the three of us through university. It is not taken into account that they will have at least nine consecutive years of funding to afford. We are a middle class family, and would probably be expected to pay a certain amount of the top up fee. The issue is not for us about paying the money back, but finding it in the first place.
In answer to the poster who thought that you only pay back the debt if you get a job that pays over national average - sorry the repayment threshold is currently 80% of average income, blasting the "graduates should pay because they earn more" argument out of the water.
One of the things which has depressingly been missed in where the money should come from is that DfES has under-spent this year by £1.7bn - enough to have paid for five years' worth of fees with change - or in other words, this year's fees are just 15% of this year's under-spend.
Graduate tax must be beaten - it's a massive precedent of a direct tax for a direct service. If this is breached, how long before we get "operation tax" or "pay your benefits back tax"?
There are currently too many people going to university. Degrees are less important to employers than they once were. I have marked work in universities and the standard of scripts has fallen dramatically; poor written skills being a main area of weakness. This begs the question of how these seemingly weak students get into university. While there is a lot to be said for increasing the general level of education , it is not the only factor that should be considered.
If there were fewer students gaining a university degree, they would mean more to employers, and the chances are people with a degree would be ale to command higher salaries. It would also mean that there would be more government money to fund students.
University should be reserved for the bright, not the rich.
Yes I agree, with a graduate tax, but not just on new graduates, but also an all graduates, recent and past, ie everyone should now pay back for past degrees if this is to be fair. And what about the fees and loans for university students that never graduated (for some reason or other) should they have to pay? Hm! Not sure about that yet.
Even as a long standing graduate, I agree with Gordon, UK. But in addition it should be levied on all future graduates; because the opportunity should still be there for a person of 40 or whatever, to be a graduate in the future.
The way to levy this tax is to take the cap off national insurance contributions, so that everybody earning above this level pays.
The government seems to be obsessed with making sure all school leavers achieve 10 A*'s at GCSE, 5 A's at A-level and a degree - why bother? The job market will be awash with paper qualifications that mean nothing.
My advice to graduates is to emigrate and find a country that truly values education and recognises the benefits, economic and otherwise that it brings to society. Then sit back and wait to see how long the plumbers, builders and cabbies etc who object to paying tax for education can keep the economy going. Not long I think.
Education, Education, Education. Mr Blair has lied to us; he has not done a single thing that has benefited our education system. It has got worse. What a way to enter adult life, the reward for trying to better yourself is a large debt. Not only that, once graduated, you have to be very lucky to walk into a job that pays you enough to live on. Normally you can be expected to extend that debt by a few more grand when you are working your way up the ladder.
So by the age of 25, you have worked for 3-4 years, know nothing better than debt. Knowing that you are going to have to work for the next 20-25 years just to pay off your debts must bring happiness to millions. No wonder young people are finding themselves disillusioned with life. After all we were told at school that education is the most important thing in life and that we must get a degree to work in the real world. It is evident that we are following America in becoming a debt riddled consumer society.
Take an Open University degree. For an arts degree it's approximately £465 a year over six years. You pay as you go along so there is no debt at the end.
You do have to work very hard if you are also holding down a full time job and having a life but surely if you want something enough it's worth it.
I feel so sorry for those wishing to enter higher education these days, knowing that they will have years of debt hanging over them - many until their mid/late thirties. Sorry, not just because they will have to miss out on a decent standard of living until they have paid the debt off. But sorry because they will not be able to really enjoy there time at college - how can you knowing that you will have to pay off £20k for the next X number of years.
I left school at 16 with one O-level. I worked my way up in business and retired six years ago aged 42! Single, I already pay taxes for other people's education, why should I pay for them to go to university as well? We all have choices and responsibilities. If that choice is going to university for three years or so, £21,000 is a small investment to make in a student's further education.
I was saddled with over £21,000 debt when I finished my (useful, not Mickey Mouse) Masters degree. I worked myself to near illness combining debt repayment and doctoral studies (my own choice I know). Now I don't have kids or a mortgage (I would like both), I only have debts, and age is not on my side.
Meanwhile most people I grew up with who opted for little education and were/are reliant on state benefits each have a home (council or owned) and more than three kids (largely paid for out of my tax). The government worries that there are becoming more old than young people. I wonder if soon the majority of young will not be the product of those with a strong education/work ethic as everyone else will be too broke/busy working to pay their debts off to start families!
For those that come for a poor background it is highly unfair. It just reinforces inequality and informs us that further education is for those with money. Having been to boarding school, first hand knowledge indicates the creation of an even stronger 'them and us' attitude. If someone wants to learn and develop themselves, let them, encourage them and help them for they are future. Possibly create scholarships if they really must implement such a scheme. Life is tough enough as it is.
Has everyone forgotten that you only pay back the debt if you get a job that pays over a decent rate (national average I believe) - and that it only constitutes about £60 a month? Surely it's a win-win situation - you take any course you want, get a degree, and if you've chosen art history and work in McDonalds you never pay it back - if it gets you a job in the City you have to pay £60 a month back. Where's the catch?
I graduated in June 2002 and was lucky enough to start a job in September, working for a public service in London. My degree is directly linked to the job I do. What gets me is that I pay high tax, N.I and rates (I pay my own wages!) in addition to the £100 a month student loan repayment, despite being prepared to serve the state for 30 years!
I think that anyone who graduates with a relevant degree and gets a job in the public sector such as the emergency services should have their student loan debt reduced. I think that the current system is the best compromise there is, the graduate tax is just painful to think about.
Having benefited from an UK polytechnic education in the early 80s I can now command a salary of $250,000 per annum. Paying for education? Yes, it means you pay greater attention to selecting your course and will gain more intrinsic benefit in the long term.
The greatest need is to educate students and teachers about the marvellous opportunities and satisfaction that education brings. My daughter at 13 has frequent exposure in her school to career options - She will be in a position to select an university course (if this is what she wishes to do) that suits her interests and vocational calling. We will have to pay for this!
Many students here graduate $50-80,000 in debt in student loans. They can't buy houses because their debt level is too high, they have to postpone marriage, buying a good car and some simply will never earn enough to pay them back. I know of people in their 50s who are still being hounded over student loans due to low wages and no medical insurance leaving them without enough income to cover everything. University education will be for the rich only if you go through with it.
Stop talking about useful degrees! This is just elitism on the part of disgruntled scientists. Art may not generate as much money to society as engineering, but it is vital to the soul. And I say this as a working scientist.
That big a debt is certainly enough to put me off going to university!
Seems like the worst kind of social engineering to me. Get 50% of the workforce owing large sums of money to the government, so they are going to be too busy trying to pay off their debts and finance somewhere to live. They are going to be pretty subdued and not have the time to protest too much about what those in power are up to.
I'd like to mention that most of the MPs who'll be voting on this issue had their degrees fully funded including living costs and they should bear in mind how they would have felt if they had been facing £25,000 in debt after three years.
What's this about graduates earning more? I graduated six years ago and still only earn £15,000. Still, at least it means I don't have to pay back my student loan yet!
Students are ready to spend their money on alcohol and other things but not on valuable education that can help them achieve high goals. They expect everything for nothing. The government has drafted a fair proposal for students.
Why don't they go for the obvious solution? The idea that 50% of the population need a university degree, or are capable of that level of academic achievement is ridiculous and is leaving a hole in the skilled trades. How much can plumbers now earn? Reduce the number going to university back to 25-30% and the funding crisis will sort itself out. Stop spreading the butter thinner.
Considering the numbers who get free education and then leave to get jobs elsewhere I think we should, but we should cut income tax to reflect this.
Higher education should be funded by those whom it benefits most directly and that means corporate entities. Every time a company employs someone who has a degree (UK or foreign) then they should pay a lump sum of £4,000 to a fund that is later distributed amongst universities.
Maybe this would help stem the ridiculous hire and fire mentality as well as give small service companies (ie contractors) an edge again.
Corporates have had it too soft for too long, benefiting from government and now personal investment for far too long.
Higher education should be based on merit, make entry requirements stricter and bring back grants!
Surely the obvious answer is for British industry to specify every year its 10 or so biggest skill shortage lists? Anyone taking a degree in one of these subjects should be fully funded. Others, taking degrees for their own personal satisfaction, should pay. There is little point in the government saying they want more people to go to university if they are taking pointless (from a skills gap perspective) degrees.
However I did a useful degree (BSc) got a job immediately and pay very high taxes compared to the services I currently use. At uni there were people doing art history degrees for three hours a week who ended up in telephone sales or got married and never worked - these are the people who are wasting money. I agree with Dave Goodman - people who do useful degrees, obtain employment and pay taxes shouldn't pay twice for their degrees.
The answer to university issues is less places. It may sound uncaring but there are too many people going to university to come out with a degree and do the same job as someone who left school at 16. A degree meant something a few years back now to an employer it is worth less on a CV than three years' experience in a working environment.
Peter Budden, UK
You are all very lucky in the UK. I'm from Canada and I'm graduating high school this year. I have applied to university and they estimate that I will have to pay about US$12,000 upfront, no later stuff.
These are sensible proposals. You do not have any money up-front and are not required to pay it back until after you start earning. I can predict the torrent of moaning that will appear on this page from students. It is entirely necessary and appropriate that students should contribute towards the financial cost of their degree.
We are now entering a world where we have to pay for an education. It will now be even harder to clear debt when we graduate. As (on average) students become the highest earners shouldn't the government do more to encourage people to attend universities?
Education, education, education? More like tax, tax, tax.
Jamie Nelson-Singer, Wimbledon, UK
Paying back afterwards is the fairest way, but only in the form of low-interest loans. The proposed graduate tax sounds like a dishonest way of raising income-tax for professionals' entire working lives, and they would likely end up paying far more than their education cost.
Why should I pay my taxes for someone else to receive higher education, then come and work for my employer on more pay than me with no experience?
In reply to Tracy's comment, should you have or choose to have children why should my tax have to go towards paying things like family allowance, family tax credit or whatever nonsense is in place now. It was your choice to have children, not mine, so you pay for their upkeep out of your wages.
Tracy, without graduates in law who will defend your personal injury claim? Without doctors who will heal you? Without teachers, who will teach? Without engineers, who will build bridges?
There are many jobs that require 3, 4 or even more years of 60 hour a week training. Do you want taxes to go up so we can pay for doctors while they learn, in addition to learning costs? Many students work hard for the benefit of the country, and have to pay for the privilege.
Based on average wages, it will take me until I'm between 30 and 35 to pass the total earnings (before tax) mark of friends of mine that left school at 16, and that¿s assuming they don¿t have any lucky breaks or take advantage of employer training.
You asked NUS president Mandy Telford
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