Mahmood moots 'hybrid' model of funding

October 4, 2012

Shabana Mahmood, the shadow higher education minister, has said she is interested in exploring a "hybrid" funding system between tuition fees and a graduate tax as an alternative to current government policy.

In an interview with Times Higher Education during the Labour Party conference, held in Manchester from 30 September to 4 October, she discussed her party's current policy to lower the fee cap to £6,000, and whether the party could go further.

She said Labour's current model would see "highest earning graduates paying a little more; it envisages some element of over-payment by those graduates. It functions much more like a graduate-tax-type system."

She added of a possible future policy: "There's a lot of different ideas for that hybrid world between a straight fees system and a straight graduate-tax system, which I'm very interested in looking at."

Asked if she could envisage Labour spending more public money on higher education than its current proposal foresees, Ms Mahmood said: "I can't make any spending commitments, obviously. But our £6,000 proposal is revenue neutral.

"I'll have to make my pitch for higher education to both Eds [Miliband, the Labour leader, and Balls, the shadow chancellor] when we're looking at the manifesto.

"But my starting point is, firstly, restoring the sense of balance to the funding of higher education, sharing that burden more fairly between the student and the state."

She said of recent figures showing a 54,000 fall in the number of students accepting places for 2012: "I find it astonishing David Willetts [the universities and science minister] says these numbers are modest. That's not modest ... we've got a real problem when it comes to aspirations of young people and their entry into higher education, which he is just not focused on. He's complacent about [it]."

Ms Mahmood also said all private providers should be subject to the regulatory requirements in place for universities, otherwise there was potential for "long-term damage" to the whole sector. It was "not good enough" for the government to be "ducking" debate on the issue by shelving plans for an immediate higher education bill, she added.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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