Private benefits for graduates

November 3, 1995

In arguing for "free tuition for the first degree . . . as a basic entitlement" my colleague, Brian Roper (THES, October ) ignores an aspect of higher education which ought to be fundamental to someone concerned with social equity as he obviously is.

There is sufficient empirical evidence to demonstrate that graduates receive on average higher lifetime earnings than non-graduates. This is a substantial private benefit whatever the social benefits of having a higher proportion of the population university-educated. It would surely be more socially equitable for graduates to pay for some of this private benefit by means of an income-contingent, postgraduate pay-back scheme than to receive it all at taxpayer's expense.

On another level, it is unsound to continue to argue in favour of "entitlements" when the conditions which once made it economically possible have long since departed now that there are 1.3 million students and a participation rate of 30 per cent.

It is not surprising that the chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals and the shadow Education Secretary should disagree with him.

F. W. Gould Vice chancellor, University of East London

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