Here's hoping for a fairer share

July 21, 2000

Your headline "Let's throw away Greenaway" (Letters, THES, July 14) certainly amused my colleagues but is premature given the arguments advanced.

If Tim Curtin reads the report, he will find an entire chapter on social benefits and the case for taxpayers contributing to costs in lieu of these. His tax calculations may be accurate but are irrelevant, relating as they do to a fallacious argument.

A graduate has the same tax liability as a non-graduate on the same income: the former has been subsidised by the taxpayer, the latter has not. Max Roberts makes the same mistake. Tom Wilson trots out a familiar refrain -ask government (nicely of course) for more funds and they will be forthcoming. Where has he been for the past 15 years? Vaughan Grylls's rant does not really need a response.

Rupert Wilkinson's points are important, improving access is crucial and it will take time to build up scholarship funds. This is why income-contingent loans feature prominently in the report. No one need make any up-front contributions. University education can still be free at the point of use, with students contributing after they graduate, when they can afford to do so and over a long period.

They are just like a graduate tax that many critics seem to favour, but with three crucial advantages: the amount students contribute is capped; the revenue can go to universities rather than to the Treasury; British taxpayers do not subsidise students from elsewhere in the European Union.

No upfront charges and increased resources offer far more potential for doing something serious about access than yet another bureaucratic solution based on targets and Byzantine funding formulas.

David Greenaway

Economics professor

Nottingham University

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