Tax all graduates, says Blackstone

V-c provokes debate with suggestion of a levy on all degree holders, past and future. John Gill reports

July 3, 2008

A graduate tax on everyone who has benefited from higher education, including those who went to university years ago, has been mooted by a former Education Minister.

Baroness Blackstone, who is now vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich, said that as a graduate herself of the London School of Economics she would be happy to contribute even now, more than 40 years on.

At a conference on higher education funding in London, she said: "I think there's a very good argument for a graduate tax, and there's even an argument for introducing a graduate tax on people like me who graduated many years ago.

"Everyone in this room who graduated, wherever it was, has benefited from the advantages of higher education, and I would be prepared to put a bit back."

Lady Blackstone, who was a Labour Education Minister from 1997 to 2001, acknowledged that such a move would be unpalatable politically and would almost certainly never happen, but she backed the more tenable idea of a graduate tax on future generations.

At the same event last week, Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, criticised the Government, the Opposition and the higher education sector for shrinking away from the debate about fees in advance of next year's review of tuition fees.

He said: "Everything has gone eerily quiet. Suddenly the Government doesn't want to talk about higher education funding, the Opposition are eerily quiet ... the Conservatives ... in terms of policy detail are absolutely absent from the debate, and vice-chancellors and universities are also very quiet."

He called on the Government to set a clear timetable and remit for the review.

Also taking part in the discussion was Neil Gorman, vice-chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, who outlined the need for universities to diversify their income streams.

To illustrate the breadth of options available, he used an example from the US, where one institution is considering opening a retirement home on its campus.

"Why would you do that?" he asked. "Well, they have the land and the sports facilities, they have physiotherapists and psychologists - they have within the university all the services that are required in retirement."

Although he stopped short of suggesting that UK universities should follow the same path, he said assets could be used in innovative ways to bring in money.

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