Tax relief tops the levy

February 9, 1996

We probably all understand the game Gareth Roberts and his fellow vice chancellors are playing with the Government and probably most of us hope they do manage to "focus (the right) minds" on higher education underfunding. If their bluff is called, however, and they are forced to proceed with the levy it will (again) be students and their parents who will end up paying the forfeit.

If the charge falls directly on students, it might be the final cost that makes it certain that individual families cannot afford to send or keep a son or daughter at university. Whatever happens in this present battle, it seems dismayingly clear that the days of the "proper" grant are over and we have not developed any workable alternative. We do not yet have any system of universities employing students in part-time jobs which would easily allow them to work their way through college, and the scholarships and bursaries which both schools and colleges awarded seem to have disappeared: trusts have been broken, capital has been realised and the client groups have been redesignated.

It is irritating to be told that in "other countries" students work their way through college, as though British students who do not lack moral fibre. We do not have the kind of flexible attendance and assessment systems that make it easy for students to manage. Doing it the other way round; full-time work and part-time study, can be unreasonably demanding and can take more than twice as long, as I know both as a student and a teacher.

The burden of paying for education is clearly shifting from the public to the individual purse. It is hard to see, therefore, what the Government intends by refusing to develop or allow the development of any other public system of assisting students through degree studies. The belief that any mention of additional taxation is unacceptable to the electorate may be misguided in this case. After paying an average of Pounds 4,000 a year, out of taxed income, for each of my children during a three-year degree course, I would have welcomed either an affordable loan system that really covered costs or a "graduate tax". Even more, though, I would have welcomed tax relief on fees and maintenance costs.

A partial scheme is now available for some vocational courses but this, like career development loans and Training and Enterprise Council funding, is strictly limited to job-related training. Tax relief on the cost of educating ourselves and our children might make the difference that is needed for people for whom a university education is beginning to appear just too expensive - and it might even make it possible for us to afford the v-cs' levy.

Gillian Healey Crookesmoor Road Sheffield

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