Hard questions for hard target 1

January 23, 2003

In "The Great Fee Debate" ("How deep must students dig?" THES , January 10), Tony Blair's exclusion of employers/business as sources of additional funding for higher education is telling. Employers benefit as much as individuals and the state, and possibly more - certainly more than parents.

A couple or three pence in the pound on an employer's National Insurance contribution for each graduate employed, ring-fenced for higher education, would go some way to addressing the sector's financial problems.

Graduates could pay back loans at a similar rate through the employee's National Insurance contribution.

There might even be other beneficial spin-offs. Public-sector employers and graduate entrants could be exempted, making the public sector more attractive to high-quality applicants.

Such a system might deter the drift to the privatisation of universities and certainly make people think twice before going down that route. It might also dampen the excessive pay levels offered to new graduates by some parts of the private sector. Asking such a commitment from employers would test whether a 50 per cent participation rate is really necessary.

Robin Thomas

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