What are the options?

January 9, 2004

Labour MPs Peter Bradley and Alan Whitehead have submitted a paper to the government urging it to convert the postgraduation fee remission to upfront, cash-in-hand maintenance grants. They want a national scheme rather than individual institutions to have principal responsibility for funding grants or bursaries. This week, they conceded on top-ups, calling on the government to instead commission a review of the impact of variable fees after the first three years. They urge legislation to fix the cap for the lifetime of the next government and allow it to be lifted thereafter only after approval by both houses of Parliament.

Alf Morris, vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England , proposes a graduate covenant scheme, essentially a modified graduate tax.This model would keep variable fees but allow universities to offer students a maintenance grant and a covenant alternative to paying fees.

The Institute of Public Policy Research has mooted a pay-when-you-earn differential fee system regulated by a cap, with a repayment threshold of up to £20,000 a year. The IPPR was the first to suggest redistributing top-up fees, arguing that 25 per cent of top-ups should go into a central fund and be redistributed across the entire sector. It recommends a higher maintenance allowance for poorer students.

The Conservatives propose to scrap all tuition fees, making the savings by not expanding higher education access further and abolishing the proposed Office for Fair Access.

The Liberal Democrats also propose to abolish fees and raise £4.5 billion a year by taxing those with annual salaries above £100,000 at 50 per cent rather than the current 40 per cent. About half of this cash would go to higher education to abolish fees and reinstate grants.

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