Capital idea? 1

November 28, 2003

The human-capital contracts advocated by Miguel Palacios (Soapbox, THES , November 21) offer distinct advantages over student loans.

Most notable among these are the ability for repayments to fluctuate with uncertain income, such as self-employment, and the finite time for which they are in force.

This would be a comfort to graduates who hit the repayment threshold for student loans late in their careers. The advantages might well overcome reluctance among students from disadvantaged backgrounds to incur large debts.

But why should only the private sector be involved? It is the government, after all, that is insisting graduates will earn premium salaries. Would it not be better for the government to invest in graduates in a way that shares rewards and risks reasonably equitably, rather than in the present form, in which the government's return is far more certain than that of the graduate?

The contracts would act as a welcome disincentive to underpaid public-service workers because the government might fail to recover its contribution within the stipulated timescale. For those suffering the uncompetitive salaries in the public sector, there would at least be the consolation that the government was losing out too.

Ian Lovecy

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