Pay slip-ups

September 29, 2000

Sarah Fitzpatrick's article ("Fee cap will close gates to the less well-off", Opinion, THES, September 1) suffers from an unthinking acceptance of untruths in the Greenaway-Haynes report.

How is it possible for the poor, who pay hardly any taxes, and certainly much less than they receive in social security, to pay for the higher education of the richer taxpayer?

Is it also true, as Greenaway-Haynes would have us believe, that no taxes are payable on the extra Pounds 400,000 lifetime earnings of the average graduate vis-a-vis the average non-graduate?

If Fitzpatrick checked her pay slip, she will see tax deducted, and rather more than from the pay slips of the estimable but less well-paid non-graduate support staff of the Social Market Foundation. In fact, the Greenaway-Haynes average graduate will pay an extra Pounds 200,000 in lifetime tax vis-a-vis the average non-graduate.

Equally absurd is Fitzpatrick's support of the claim that only an income tax rise of 3p in the pound would enable per-student funding to return to the 1990 level. First, per-student funding should fall to some extent to reflect the increasing productivity arising from economies of scale, with expansion, and new technology.

Second, only a small (less than 3 per cent) reallocation in the existing budget would double university spending without any extra taxes being necessary.

There is a case for competitive fees, but it is not that presented by Fitzpatrick and Greenaway-Haynes. Means-tested fees backed up by state-funded vouchers are what is required, not charging fees to the rich allegedly to generate not only higher salaries for them but also scholarships for the poor.

To use Fitzpatrick's figure, if a richer student needed a loan of Pounds 50,000 to cover fees at a top university, that loan would have to be Pounds 100,000 to provide just one scholarship for a poor student.

Tim Curtin National Centre for Development Studies Australian National University

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