Saturday, 30 October 2010

ConDem mess in the Universities

It’s been pointed out in this space before that the present ConDem government seem not to have thought through any of their policies. And it goes on.

To give IDS the benefit of the doubt, I accept that he thought long and hard about his reforms. However the way Cameron has implemented some aspects of them has more to do with news capture than anything else. Housing benefit and child benefit policies are both slowly unravelling to the point of fudging and tweaking.

But it’s the mess of university funding I would like to approach today. Universities have already found their way through one major cut in income and now face a second - the removal of all subsidy for teaching in arts and humanities subjects - which is to say virtually all subsidy in these disciplines.

The Government’s idea was that this should be replaced by increasing student fees; and here the current mess. The ConDems can’t even manage this process; I have, to date, heard three fee-levels floated; 12k, 9k, 7k per year. These figures leave out the ‘no cap’ possibility. It all sounds as if reporters are picking figures out of the air. Does the Government have no awareness of the effect on universities of this situation? Or don’t they care?

They certainly haven’t got their act together. They appear to be arguing that Universities will have to ensure entry across the social and economic range. But these are little more than weasel words when you’re busy erecting barriers against this.

I hear another option being raised; privatised universities or parts of universities. That would suit a Conservative philosophy very well; a true free market in which fees and teaching can find their own levels according to what the market can sustain. Perhaps they would like to see faculties hived off into private ownership and leasing, say, space and other support services from a university - what a nightmare.

In addition, why attack the arts and humanities like this? People with these qualifications go into the world and make valuable contributions too. Yes, we must encourage science and engineering, but we must support and value these other areas too; if not we shall quickly become a philistine nation. And arts subjects will become the preserve of the well-off . . . and there, perhaps, is the point.

There are some universities (like schools) that aren’t performing as well as they should. These must be pulled up to scratch or close. There are students (a few) who it would appear shouldn’t be at university - though it’s more likely they are not yet ready to be there. It would seem inevitable at this time that some universities will, rightly, close. But we don’t want to go back to is a time when a university education was only for a comfortably off tiny minority.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Milliband must argue housing benefit policy in the round

Ed Milliband and his team are right to home in on the housing benefit policy Cameron is promoting. Of course he is; it’s terrible that thousands of people are in danger of being moved out to goodness knows where. And if anyone should think that’s scaremongering, note that some London LA are already booking the bed and breakfast accommodation far from their own London Borough.

But the arguments must be put with care and in-the-round.

Labour had tried to address the welfare bill, but with only limited success. We must be prepared with some solutions of our own, lest we be seen as simply attacking for the sake of attacking.

We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact, either, that the reason rents are so high is because landlords are making them high. A side-effect, if you like, of the free market . . . ‘benefit will pay the rents so let’s see what rents we can get away with.’

In addition, the public have to a huge extent taken on board the idea that people on benefit are scroungers living in large houses most of us couldn’t afford to live in. Milliband and his team must have a strategy to overcome this, to education the pubic to the truth (and not shy away from the fact that some people are milking the system.)

Cameron’s policy has popular support - almost certainly the main reason he won’t budge from it (Tory polling will indicate this.)

For us to win the argument will be hard to do - we don’t own newspapers. But unless this issue is taken on in the round we’re in danger of scoring a home-goal. We have to be smart.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Stop this nonsense of changing clocks

Not surprisingly the topic of whether we should adjust our clocks twice a year is again in the news. There’s not a person I speak to who thinks this twice-yearly practice is a good one. It’s daft, inconvenient and a throw-back to the past. More than that, research consistently shows that sticking with BST (ie GMT + 1) would save lives - though estimates vary; I’ve seen 400 mentioned and 100.

Two myths for changing clocks are currently put forward.

Farmers. The argument is they would lose daylight working time and livestock feeding and milking would have to be adjusted. To my knowledge livestock don’t have watches so won’t really know the difference; moreover as daylight slowly shifts, so would milking and feeding ‘memory’ for livestock. Animals won’t know the difference. As for losing time, the farmers must not have learned to tell the time; they have the same amount of daylight, just in slightly different places.

Scotland is the second issue. I understand that the Scottish Executive has now accepted that not changing the clocks will save lives. So there shouldn’t be a block here. Anyway, why should the rest of the UK fall into line with Scotland in the light of research? If Scotland wants to retain its changing clocks, let it.

In 1968 - 71 there was an experiment in the UK and clocks weren’t changed. There were less deaths on the road but this result was seen as inconclusive since tough drink-drive laws had just been enacted.

Not to change our clocks won’t necessarily bring us into line with Europe, who continue to change clocks. But then, perhaps where the UK leads, the rest of Europe might follow.

There are regular attempts to change the UK practice, all have failed. But pressure doesn’t go away and I feel is mounting. Perhaps its time has come (and apologies for that inevitable pun.)

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Arguments for Growth and Jobs

Cameron, Cable and Milliband are all addressing the CBI conference this week.

Milliband will make a well structured speech setting out his plan for attacking our deficit more slowly in order to be able to support growth - to safeguard employment. He’ll no doubt attack the ConDem policies. Milliband and his team must speak hard and loud against the idea that the deficit was Labour’s fault . . . world recession, need to sustain growth, work, jobs and so on. It’s important that this message (although, in a sense, historical) gets through to people. Recent polling suggests that nearly half the people questioned still think Labour is to blame for the deficit - note that the ConDems take EVERY opportunity to repeat this, driving the message home. Only about a third of that number blame the ConDems - who haven’t really been there long enough to blame . . . yet.

DC and VC have more difficult jobs, though. It may be that DC is just beginning to realise how jittery the country has become. Anyone in the workplace knows that jobs are already being shed. It’s not surprising that private companies say they’re going to mop up all the jobs that are lost in the public sector - they want to support the Tory policy which is good news for them. DC and VC are going to go for growth.

It’s hard to see how, in reality, all these jobs are going to be mopped up. But what is certain, is that the jobs that are mopped up will be people doing much the same work as they did in the public sector but at lower wages and with worse conditions - so the companies they will work for can make profits.

Where drastic slimming down is happening - in the NHS or LAs or Universities, for instance, many people may remain out of work. A few research centres won’t be able to employ them, Universities, for instance, are already working hard to make links with industry, and a few new small businesses certainly aren’t going to make much difference. We’ve heard that argument before.

What would have made a difference in Sheffield would have been the loan to Forge Masters.

Cable, this morning, on R4, not surprisingly refused to accept the word ‘gamble’ when applied to the policy of drastic cuts. But it is a gamble from Cameron and Osborne - neither of whom will really be affected.

Cable seemed to be burying his head in the sand about LibDem rumblings on housing benefit. In truth, poor old Cable sounded dreadful, no doubt disorientated by turning about face so fast and so frequently.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Cleggie loses it, as the Nasty Party bares its teeth

The dust begins to settle on the Government’s spending review and we see some interesting results - not necessarily where we would expect to. During Posh Boy George’s speech we shouldn’t lose sight of the ConDem MPs cheering welfare cuts; the Nasty Party is back - they never really changed.

We can see this in other details - the kinds of thing that slip out because their attention is fixed elsewhere. What is IDS thinking of when he says unemployed people should ‘get on a bus.’ First of all, doesn’t he realise people do that? But I suspect his knowledge of buses is small, I can’t see him on a bus to his office. Secondly, he’s pretty inept not to realise that he would be dragging up the recollection of Tebbit’s infamous ‘on your bike.‘ But then we’ve always known IDS is politically inept.

Have many people realised that millionaire Posh Boy is changing housing benefit so that people under 35 will no longer be able to get housing benefit for a small flat. They’ll have to live in a shared house - though he dresses this up in silver words (to match his spoons.) So one of his 500k public sector workers, who’s, say, 32 and living in a flat, will, when losing their job because of these cuts, will also have to move. Charming.

And Prefect Cleggie is losing it. Before the election Posh Boy and Cameron were identifying the Institute for Fiscal Studies as a respected organisation. The IFS has identified the ConDem cuts as ‘regressive.‘ So Cleggie is now stamping his little feet calling the IFS methodology ‘complete nonsense.‘ He’s also saying that their definition of ‘fairness‘ (one of the ConDem over-used sound bytes) goes back to a time of Gordon Brown.

Cleggie is rattled; no doubt about it. A hissy fit at a think tank that disagree with you shows you are not really mastering your job. But he’s every reason to be rattled; his own person polling is in free-fall and a recent YouGov poll puts the LibDems at a new low of 10 per cent (Conservatives at 41 and Labour at 40.)

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The F word is now common in politics

This article is going to be liberally sprinkled with the F word . . . two of them actually.

The word ‘flexible’ is coming to the fore in Conservative policies. Today we gather they are going to slash the budget for social housing. I’ve been involved in many policy meetings over the past months and one of the most common calls is for more social housing - decent housing at a price people can afford.

Cameron wants to reduce tenancy rights for social housing tenants - he wants a more Flexible system. Part of his argument is that people shouldn’t be holding on to a tenancy if they can afford to buy. Doesn’t this mansion owner realise that if people in social housing can afford to buy, that’s just what they do. We can see what his policy is aimed at; privately built houses with private landlords . . . free market economy, based on maximum profits for the landlords and as little given to the tenants as possible.

Cast your mind back to Conservative employment policies before the Labour Government - the desire for a Flexible workforce. In real words, less rights for working people, easier for owners to hire and fire.

In the Conservative lexicon, Flexible = We’ll boot you out when we feel like it. Let us hope for a flexible ConDem government.

Prefect Cleggie was interviewed yesterday on cuts. Sounding more than ever like a Year Seven boy, Prefect Cleggie said: ‘It’s not Fair to expect our children to pick up this debt.’ Gold Star, Cleggie, for getting in the ConDem PR sound byte - now I think a bit overdone. But Clegg looked peevish and pathetic, no wonder the LibDem vote is falling and his personal support is in free fall.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Lulls, celebrity and gongs in the bank

The spending review is now being trailed like the opening of a new major film or television series. It has, in a way, lost its seriousness and gained an air of celebrity. The television, as ever, more concerned with viewing figures than they are with the serious reporting of news.

There is a strange lull in the UK. As if everything is on hold until Wednesday - as if on Wednesday there will be a seismic shift in the country’s finances and social well-being.

There won’t be. On Wednesday there will be a blueprint for bringing about that change. The change itself will happen incrementally. So we must remain vigilant and active - we need to remember that even nasty tasting medicine tastes less nasty fourth of fifth time round.

And in the lull, 35 top UK companies have come out in support of Posh Boy’s deficit cutting policy. Are we really surprised? Conservative cuts will drive up unemployment (anyone can see that), will drive down wages, will increase profits for (the top 35) companies. The leaders of which will then, no doubt, be able to give large sums to Posh Boy and his chums’ Party and get gongs into the bargain.

Roll on next Wednesday and lets take the fight to them!!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Government options for cuts; reaction on the march in the C of E

Who’d have thought anything as anorakish as a spending review could create so much interest? Much of this interest has been fuelled by the press; and for once I don’t criticise them. They have supplied much analysis and information to enable us to consider circumstances for ourselves.

And now (with the review due next week) they’ve gone into overdrive; in part, forcing the hands of ministers. Cleggie, anxious to pour honey over the bitterness of his many broken promises, announced a pupil premium to help poorer pupils. Quick as a flash the press started asking: ‘Will this money come from elsewhere in the schools budget?’ So (again quick as a flash) the government had to announce that the schools budget (not the education budget, by the way) will be protected.

Now this is interesting, isn’t it? Every time something contentious has come up, D Cameron has made a point of protecting it . . . police numbers, free bus passes, now schools, child benefit - well not child benefit, to protect that was just an election pledge.

Cameron has spent most of his premiership so far on PR; he doesn’t want bad news. But how’s he going to avoid it? The schools protection and pupil premium with the, as I understand it, proposed smaller defence cuts, could be reckoned to amount to some 18 bn gpb. This is quite a proportion of the targeted 83 bn gbp.

The options open to the government, now, are to make much bigger cuts elsewhere (and education as a whole has not been ring-fenced) or to go for a smaller figure of retrenchment. The latter option might be attractive; although Boy George would get a lot of stick, and it would be embarrassing for the Conservatives, that story would quickly disappear, massaged by lighter cuts. But I don’t think this will be palatable to them.

This means bigger cuts elsewhere. Even the Conservatives, who seem to have done little planning before the election, must be concerned about the effect of cuts on growth and unemployment. Unemployment is a major indicator and rising unemployment is always bad-news headlines; but let’s remember rising unemployment didn’t stop Margaret Thatcher. The attractive place (for the government) to cut is welfare; IDS has been sweetened already, so we could be in for some really bad news on welfare cuts. And this could be on other universal benefits.

On a completely different subject we see that the forces of reaction are on the march again in the C of E. Traditionalists (those who don’t approve of women bishops but can’t now get rid of them) reckon they have stitched up enough seats to take the reins of power in the Synod. This will mean restricting the role of women bishops for no other reason than that they are women.

Personally I don’t give a b****r about the C of E and its synod except for one reason. The Synod is a traditional powerbase; they have a powerful voice. And a powerful voice can effect change; this will not be change for the better. So I do give a b****r.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Pinocchio and a Poem

The Conservatives made much noise in their election campaign about how much money they were going to save by cutting out waste (have we ever heard that one before?) Their savings formed a significant part of their plans for deficit reduction. One of the major savings they were going to make was by getting rid of a large number of QUANGOs. Today they are going to announce the fate of many of them. So far so good . . .

However, we now learn that many of them will be subsumed into Whitehall civil service. Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, says that it was never about saving money but about accountability. Good job he’s not Pinocchio, I say. But then, if he were, we’d at least get a laugh out of this sick joke.

In the description of this blog I mention the importance of art and culture; I’m attaching, as part of today’s blog, a recent poem of mine. It may be too overtly political to be good poetry . . . I don’t know.

But here goes.

We Can’t Rhyme, David

You don’t speak to me.
However earnestly
you don your Honest-Dave face
(the one you had so exquisitely
bespoke in Saville Row)
it’s just for show.
No, we don’t inhabit the same space.

Your PR crafted creed
we’re all in this together doesn’t chime
with me, we don’t bleed
in the same way
you and I, we
can’t rhyme.

You tell me, media hype
cocooned (you recognise the political type?)
we live in a broken society;
from where I stand I see
it’s always been like this –
hard as nails, yes,
a son or daughter who careers
off the rails, a friend who fears
work, a neighbour who peers
into another’s business and who
tells tales. But, too,
the occasional helping hand,
a friend who’ll understand,
lines etched merely in sand.

You think you’ve jettisoned grand
but your eyes are your eyes
and the shoes you live in are your shoes;
you cannot help but patronise
us; I cannot excuse
you for the lives you’ll destroy
and for your smile while you do it.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Is Politics beginning to liven up?

Thank goodness we’re coming out of the quiet season; I think things are beginning to liven up. If I appear gleeful, it’s just that I sense the LP is up and running now; and we’ll be making our presence felt.

Ed scored a good media hit with the appointment of Alan Johnson as shadow chancellor; I think the contrast with Poshboy George will work well; and to our advantage.

But what is of interest now is the arrival of the Brown report on the future of University funding. This is never going to be a huge issue like Health, Policing, or Schools. But it’s gained a great notoriety in recent months – perhaps because of all the media types who’ve been to university. Or because politically it’s become a Big One.

Ed M supported the idea of a graduate tax; recently I’ve written that I was leaning towards it but found it too flawed to support. Alan Johnson was against it. Andy Burnham (if I remember correctly supported a graduate tax.)

Vince Cable has now written to all his LibDem members saying that they will not be introducing a graduate tax – and we assume he knows what may be coming our way in the Brown review. But he does support a higher rate of tax for graduates in higher paid jobs – to support other graduates. Does this mean a tax until the loan is paid off? Interesting. Particularly in that big emphasis on no increase in student fees was given in their election manifestos . . . something else they’ve had to change now?

The atmosphere is feverish, indicated policies shifting by the minute, as, no doubt, ministers and others brief in order to steal a march on opponents . . . sorry, colleagues. The deal being floated now is for a more realistic interest rate on student loans. Are the LibDems really up to supporting this? How far from being against student loans and no increase in student fees can you get?

It’ll be interesting to watch Ed manoeuvre on this one, as well. Will there be enough of a crack in the ConDem ranks for him to get a hold on and widen? Clearly he's hoping so with his invitation for LibDems to work with him. But what is a 'progressive system' of funding? As both Milliband and Burham say a free market of different fees is highly undesirable, even worse than across universities is the certainty of different fees for courses within a university. It doesn't take too much to work out that the most popular courses will go up (which isn't the same as the most expensive courses . . . )

Whatever Ed does, he (and the team) must do it quickly, decisively and clearly. Knocking the other side is good - but not good enough, what are we going to do? It’ll be seen as a test of the new team.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Milliband demonstrates canny thinking

Ed Milliband has announced his shadow cabinet; and has demonstrated some canny thinking.

Most obviously Alan Johnson into the Shadow Chancellor’s job. Dangerous move, but a good one. If Ed had put either of the front-runners (Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper) into the post he’d have ever been faced with the media predilection for Soap Drama. Besides which, he couldn’t really have put Ed Balls there; Balls’ comments recently about deficit reduction would have sent out entirely the wrong messages. But best of all, Ed M has wrong-footed the journalist pundits, without raising their hackles.

Alan Johnson is an incredibly safe pair of hands. In government he headed up both Health and Home Office and steered sure courses, taking them both out of the highly anti-labour news. His joke about an ‘economics primer’ may have been funny (it was neatly wry and brilliantly self-deprecating) but may have been a tactical error. However, he could easily turn it back on the Government if they attack him with it. And distant, posh-boy George will find an excellent opponent in older, genuine, honest talking Johnson. Good move.

Good to see Caroline Flint making a return; she’s an excellent communicator. And the bossy women from Blair-Brown have gone.

Sorry not to see Diane Abbott somewhere; she has grown enormously over the leadership campaign. She may be tricky to handle within collective responsibility; but she now has far more positives than negatives. I have hopes . . .

Thursday, 7 October 2010

I'm not saying the nasty party is back . . .

In his final conference speech, David Cameron invoked the spirit of Kitchener (which is synonymous, in the circumstances, with the spirit of Churchill). ‘Your country needs you.’ What a cheek. ‘We’re all in this together,’ the millionaire says, ‘Go out and do your voluntary work - your country needs you.’ Interestingly, it didn’t get a warm response, perhaps even his delegates think they’re doing quite enough already, thank you.

I’ve argued before that if all his volunteers get going (civic gardens, volunteer libraries . . . ) it won’t be the well-healed that’ll suffer, nor the well paid managers, but the low-paid librarians, LA gardeners and the like.

Now put this alongside the welfare cap - around 500 gbp per family. There is some argument about the fairness of this; it runs along the lines of ‘If you’re on benefit you shouldn’t have so many children.’ This may be harsh, but, for some, there is a cruel logic behind it. Precisely the reason, of course, that the Tories use it. But it’s not the true picture.

The real problem is that people have their families (large or small), then, possibly out of the blue, are made redundant or lose their jobs. What are they supposed to do with their children then? Put them back?! The capped figure includes housing benefit, so what happens to a family in rented accommodation in central London or other areas of the South East? Let’s take our clue from one of the delegates at the Tory conference; she said, ‘They’ll have to move house.’

And the final, never mentioned, element of this . . . we can all see that the policy of cuts Cameron and Osborne are promoting will certainly raise levels of unemployment.

The Conservatives are going to force people on to benefits . . . and then punish them for being there.

I’m not saying the ‘nasty party’ is back; I’m saying it never really went away, just hidden by a bit of PR camouflage.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

What planet does Gove live on? (Or come from?)

Education secretary, Michael Gove, has announced an over-haul of the school curriculum. But the majority of what he says beggars belief.

If you want to control a population one of the things you do, first, is control their knowledge of history; many years ago Kenneth Baker did it - ‘they should know kings and queens’ philosophy. Gove wraps it up as Britain’s ‘island history’.

He makes a great deal about students needing to understand and practise correct sentence structure, spelling, grammar. Not surprisingly he used this statement to bash ‘left wing idealogues’.

Now I don’t know where Gove has been . . . certainly not into any primary school I’ve been into recently. Primary children study history in broad sweeps, getting an understanding or feeling for different periods. And if he bothered to open a Level 3 SATS English paper, I think he might find his language skills challenged.

Gove then has a list (don’t these Tories love them?) - Keats, Dryden, Byron . . . I can think of ways I could teach these in a secondary school, but I don’t think they’re appropriate for all groups - I don’t see the point. It’s much better to work with some of the brilliant contemporary writers. I could pick one or two Year 9 or 10 classes that Gove might like to prepare a lesson plan for and teach it.

Gove isn’t, of course, really considering education, much more to the fore is his desire to re-establish his position within the Tory front bench. The education secretary has proved once again his credentials - he’s a pompous prat.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Life isn't just PR, is the real world beginning to get to the Tories?

One of the things that’s marked the ConDem time in office is their cool, calm assurance; it’s reassuring, ‘they know what they’re doing, we’re safe in their hands.’

But it’s easy for them to be calm and cool; their time, so far, has mostly been PR with few policies being outlined in detail or implemented. One Minister who hasn’t seemed sure-footed is Education Secretary, Gove, Cameron’s right hand man; look how Gove has been shoved out of the media spotlight after his spectacular encounters with a number of banana skins.

But now do we begin to see more things wobble?

Osborne has broken the link of child benefit with universality; the wisdom of this is open to debate. But he has make the break point the higher rate tax - c 44k gbp per year. However, if one person in a family earns above this figure child benefit is lost; if two people in a family are working and they individually earn less than this figure but their joint income is more (even quite a lot more0 .......................then they don’t lose it - even if, say, both earn 40k gbp (ie 80k per year). Anyone can see this is unfair. But Osborne says to the effect: ‘It’s tough, but we have to put up with it.’

Osborne can put up with it - he’s a millionaire, so what will he feel?

Conservative Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton, has already said the policy may need revising . . . It didn’t stand up to much scrutiny then.

Osborne has also capped a family’s benefits to the level of the average family income - around 500 gbp per week. This sounds quite a lot, but in London and areas of the SE housing costs alone could approach this. The policy effectively shoves people out of their homes in London and areas of the SE to areas with lower housing costs; sounds a bit like ghettos to me.

At the same time three local authorities are taking legal action against Gove cutting the funds for schools for rebuilding.

And now, Jim Gamble, Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre, has resigned, following a disagreement with the Government over the Government’s future plans for the agency.

I hope the new Labour Leadership notes these cracks. But it’s not enough to attack them . . . we have to be much cleverer. We have to have better policies. Let’s get our skates on.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Interesting times, interesting polls, and Ed safe from Warsi

Two down, one to go. We wait to hear from Osborne and Cameron; in the meantime Ed M begins his work while he (and we) wait to hear about his shadow cabinet. And polls are interesting.

Recent polls show a big drop in LibDem support and Tories and Labour neck and neck. Some put Conservatives slightly ahead, others put Labour slightly ahead. There haven’t been dramatic Conference Bounces this year; we’ll have to see if the Conservative vote follows this pattern.

Ed must capture the goodwill in the Party and move onwards. He must quickly get some quick answers to some often repeated Tory claims. Many people in the country are failing to support Labour because they hold us responsible for the UK debt; it’s easy to understand why. The Tories keep telling them we’re responsible for it. ‘Say something often enough and it becomes true’ a cynical person might say.

The Tories have several add-ons too . . . ‘We have the biggest debt of the G20’, ‘We’re like Greece’, ‘Look at Spain and Ireland’, ‘Look how Canada got itself out of debt with budget cuts’. We must have media friendly answers to these, and use them loudly and often.

Speaking of loud . . . I caught part of Baroness Warsi’s Conservative address. At one of her climax points she finished with ‘Ed Milliband - you’re no friend of mine.’ He must be breathing a sigh of relief. And Ms Warsi, I don’t personally know anybody who’d want you and your squawking clap-trap as a friend.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Moving towards a graduate tax . . . but how far?

I’v been thinking about the Graduate Tax; is it fairer than the student loan process?

Ideally, it would be popular - and a good idea - if we could get rid of the student charging idea - back to the old system where higher education was paid for through general taxation and student grants were available as appropriate. But this was a system for a time when only about 2 per cent of the population went to higher education. If you want to increase that percentage (which has happened) then, the argument goes, the burden on the tax payer is too much. This cannot be a right/wrong answer - it’s a matter of choice or priorities when balancing the UK’s budget.

The next thing to add into the mix is the pressure universities feel on their own bank balances and the need for enough money to manage, effectively, their programmes. They are already making swingeing cuts to staffing and other areas, and must be nearing the level when student experience is affected. There is little doubt that the cap on student fees will be raised or removed in the near future. Universities will feel a great pressure to increase fees, or to vary fees according to courses in order to maximise income. So if a course is popular, the fees are likely to go up.

With variable course fees we are then in a difference set of circumstances. What will be the effect of variable fees on people’s choices relating to economic and social backgrounds? Under the student loan system, students will know what they have to pay back (it will be finite) so the effect of variable fees may be exacerbated. The big advantage of a graduate tax is that the notion of a debt is removed from the student - and that’s a big advantage. But the relationship between the graduate tax element and the student fee is now brought up front; so will the graduate tax be unfair in as much as students on lower cost courses will be subsidising students from higher feed courses?

Or will the graduate tax itself be variable - or capped at the point at which the student fees are paid off? Now this sounds very much like the student loan process, except the loan is not carried by the student but by the country.

The graduate tax is attractive at first view, but I’m yet to be convinced. We await more details.