The coalition are floating their penal proposals for student funding on several lies.
Lie 1. The tuition fee debt will not affect the ability to get a mortgage because the tuition fee debt will not be collected if a person’s income falls below the minimum contributory figure which is set to become £21,000.
This is a lie because (a) if the person’s income is above £21,000 (and any first-time house purchaser’s income will have to be substantially above that), the amount paid on the student debt reduces their disposable income, a fact which will be taken into account by any mortgage provider, and (b) the unpaid debt increases year by year as interest and inflation uprating are applied.
Lie 2. That the system is fairer than a graduate tax, because if a graduate tax was applied it could be evaded by working abroad, something particularly likely in the case of foreign students studying in Britain.
This is a lie because, although in theory true, the reality is that under the proposed system of tuition fees, there will be no means in practice of ensuring those who study in Britain and then work abroad of pay their debt. (This applies to student maintenance loans as well as tuition fees.)
Lie 3. That the average graduate earns much more than a non-graduate over a working lifetime.
This is a lie because the projection is made from historical data. When the argument was first used it was claimed that the figure was £450,000 not £100,000. The reason it dropped was beautifully simple: the £450,000 figure was based on data from a time when far fewer people went took a degree (less than 8% in 1970 and 43% now) and a degree was scarcer and consequently more valuable. It is likely that the £100, 000 figure will be lowered further as the earnings of recent graduates become more prominent in the projections.
It is worth adding that even £100,000 is a pitifully small reward for it works out at £2,500 pa over a 40-year career. Moreover, those additional earnings are before tax.
Finally, there is already solid statistical evidence that arts degrees and what the public likes to call “Micky Mouse degrees” such as media studies provide no additional earnings.
Lie 4 That the debt will not put people off going to university.
This is a lie in the sense that the coalition cannot have any certainty of the claim’s truth yet present the claim as objective fact. While it is true that to date tuition fees have not reduced the willingness of people to go to university, the massive increase in fees and the rising cost of living necessitating further borrowing will easily produce total debt per student in the region of £40,000. There must come a point where the disincentive effect kicks in. In addition, would-be students have increasing knowledge of the travails of students who have already been burdened with debts and the falling monetary value of a degree.
Lie 5 That the proposed fees are fair because it is unfair to expect those who do not go to university to pay for those who do.
This is a lie because our taxation system is based not on any concept of hypothecated taxes (taxes for a particular purpose), but on a central treasury which is used as elected politicians decide. This means that there are any number of instances where people pay taxes for things they do not approve of or do not directly benefit from, for example, the childless paying for the children of others, the non-motorist paying for roads and the pacifist paying for armed forces. If the coalition was consistent on this claimed principle they would insist that only those who benefitted from school education paid for it.
Lie 6 There is no alternative to such tuition fee increases to funding the present level of higher education.
A straightforward lie. What the coalition means is they do not choose to use any of the alternative measures. These include:
1. Ending Foreign aid – a saving of £9 billion pa.
2. Reducing the per capita Treasury funding to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to that of England – saving £15 billion pa
3. Raising basic income tax by a penny in the pound – additional tax raised of £3 billion pa.
The other alternative would be reduce taxpayer funded degrees to 20% of school leavers (Germany has only 25% at university). That would allow full tuition fees to be paid and a maintenance grant to be paid.