Sign on to study

September 22, 2000

A 2 per cent income surtax on graduates would be a good idea (Letters, THES, September 8) if it created automatic funding and eliminated the chase for scholarships, grants and so on. How many hours that should be spent studying are wasted searching for, preparing and sending such, often fruitless, applications.

But here is a more radical idea. Allow full-time students to sign on with the Department of Social Security. Present rules are very perverse in that a maximum of 16 hours' study a week is allowed, delaying the time when students can begin earning and so start repaying the DSS money they have received.

Freeloading could be eliminated by asking universities to confirm annually that a student has made adequate academic progress and will study for the next year. The government would save money because students would progress more rapidly to becoming taxpayers and because the burden of bureaucracy would be reduced. Earnings from, say, tutorial or marking work would be declared and deducted as they are now.

The DSS money could be recouped by a 2 per cent surtax, but society benefits by having more graduates. If their contribution, once earning, was not more than their salary, they would not be employed by anyone. How many businesspeople would like to see the UK bereft of, say, economics graduates or MBAs or medical graduates?

The Pounds 40-Pounds 50 DSS money, plus rent paid, would about equal the money many students get now but be less burdensome administratively. Costs to the exchequer would not rise vastly, and the UK would benefit from a better educated workforce, with better degrees gained from more time studying and less time spent chasing funds or part-time work. A case for joined-up government here?

Hillary Shaw

Postgraduate student in geography

University of Leeds

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