A Labour lie that taxes talent

June 18, 1999

Having effectively enjoyed a free ride to their position of influence, it is somewhat unseemly for politicians to now stentoriously insist that others pay their own way.

The moral weight of the tuition fee argument lies in the claim that a quantifiable benefit, derived exclusively from the state's funding of university tuition, uniquely accrues to the graduate as enhanced income. If the claim of an exclusive benefit cannot be sustained, the argument falls and fees must be abandoned.

Even allowing for Neil Kay's misgivings ("Flawed Dearing logic dictates policy", THES, June 4), it would be hard to deny that a degree lends some advantage to the level of one's future income. It is not, however, as easy to quantify that benefit and other forms of state-supported education add as much or more to different career paths.

Time spent in one of the services, the opportunity to reach one's potential in sport through the perception and dedication of a teacher, even in-service training given to civil servants, all have a potential effect on earnings that could easily equal or better the income effect of a degree. Can we factor these into some kind of equivalent tuition fee?

The decision to apply fees was a matter of selective discrimination on the basis of one form of state-nurtured natural ability - academic potential. Other abilities were ignored.

Worse, this arbitrary tax was to be levied only on those reaching the age of 18 on or after a certain date; no attempt was to be made to to regain through income tax some fraction of the benefit gained by those born in more socially judicious times.

Tuition fees have, therefore, no moral weight. The only fair way to obtain the funding needed to repair and sustain a greatly expanded higher education sector is to increase income taxes for higher earners. A few will have made it on their own and for them the measure will carry a degree of injustice, but no more than for those paying for a health or fire service they will never use.

One should contribute to the benefits obtained, in part, through state-sponsorship; just as the state must invest to develop the potential and well-being of its citizens. It is no coincidence these two virtues meet at the most equitable point of equilibrium in the mechanism called "taxation".

The Labour Party knew the costs of their proposal to put education first but it knew, too, that meeting those costs by proposing to increase taxation would allow the Tories a powerful weapon in the approaching general election. In a political and social betrayal, only recently equalled by the Scottish Liberal Democrats, they focused a sophistry on a perceived elite and conned a significant element of the electorate. Those of us who put education first for the sake of society rather than that of a political party should not allow their lie to lie.

Andrew Morgan Swansea

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