Dodgy arguments 1

August 15, 2003

Contrary to the THES editorial ("Rebel MPs must face reality over top-up fees", THES , August 8), the reality faced by Labour backbenchers in the higher education debate is that they now have almost certainly the last opportunity to correct the inclinations of a leadership promulgating policies for which the closest description is "Thatcherite".

What might be termed the "unifee dossier" is even more dubious than the Iraqi model. The core moral argument for tuition fees is that the graduate will earn more than someone who has not completed a degree and should therefore make a contribution to their value-added education. This ignores the fact that the average graduate, ten years into employment, is likely to be earning no more than a plumber, a bricklayer, a police officer or an army sergeant. The taxpayer will have paid for training in these cases too, but no one is arguing for tuition fees for further education or for a special tax on police officers and soldiers.

Top-up fees will restrict the best education to those best able to afford it, and the remainder - save the charity cases - will have to make do with overfull institutions lacking the resources to offer genuine higher-level education. Of course, the unifee dossier has carefully hidden the fact that tax on the value-added element (alone) of the degree-holder's lifetime earnings covers the cost of providing the extra education five or six times over.

The taxpayer's "profit" from the investment in higher education hugely outweighs the initial input. The moral argument is bankrupt and the economic argument non-existent.

Andrew J. Morgan
University of Wales Swansea

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