OUSU stalls over graduate tax motion

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A controversial OUSU graduate tax motion was tabled for two weeks by the Council in order to allow for consultations with JCRs.

The motion proposed a graduate tax system as “the fairest way at present to fund higher education”. The system would introduce a tax on those who went to higher education and proceeds of the tax will then fund the universities. The amount of tax levied would be proportional to income.

The decision to put forward this motion comes at the time when the government reviews higher education funding. Currently, fees are capped at £3,145. According to vice-Chancellor John Hood, such low payments create a shortfall in Oxford University’s funding.

OUSU council will use the motion to lobby the National Union of Students. However, the discussion of the motion has thus far been restricted to the OUSU working group and last week’s Council. Magdalen OUSU rep Tom Meakin stressed the importance of engaging all students in the discussion.

“Although the student union has set up a working party, there has been little tangible engagement with students across the university”, he said.

Many were unhappy about the way the process has been carried out. Laurence Mills, Magdalen JCR President, spoke against the motion during OUSU council on the grounds that JCRs had not been adequately engaged. He has stressed the importance of involving JCRs in such important decisions, emphasising the need for a “bottom-up” process and states that “this issue is not one on which we can afford to bypass our common rooms”.

Others believed that the council should have made a decision on the issue there and then. Paul Fisher, JCR President of St Catz, argued that delaying the process would compound the view that OUSU is incapable of making decisions on behalf of the student body.

He said, “My largest concern was that we as a Council had avoided our responsibility as the sovereign body in the Student Union and decided once more to leave the issue until a later date. The reasons for doing this were very tenuous indeed- I thoroughly doubt that we will come back to the table any more informed as to how Oxford students approach the tricky issue of University finance.”

Some thought the motion has been unclear, as the confusion over what it means to support a ‘graduate tax’ has been widespread. Alex Bulfin, Univ JCR President commented, “the graduate tax has so many variables that it is difficult to say categorically whether you endorse it or not; it ranges from models that look remarkably like the current system to others which would be virtually unrecognizable and not all of these will appeal to all individuals.”

In principle, many supported the motion. Hannah Gomersall, the OULC secretary said, “OULC members voted overwhelmingly that a system of taxing graduates seemed the best way forward. We firmly believe that education at all levels should be accessible to everyone.”

However, the opposition to the practical implications of the idea have been widespread. One first year PPEist commented, “If I happened to earn a lot of money having been to a rubbish university, I would object to paying a higher graduate tax than some Oxbridge student who graduates and then does nothing with their life.  It is effectively just a hike in income tax. I would support it only if it was matched by a tax cut elsewhere.”

Other alternatives to graduate tax have been considered. However, there have been concerns that lifting the cap on fees would create a market for higher education. The motion states, “Oxford University will probably charge more than the average will reinforce the perception that Oxford is a more expensive place to study.”

Marius Ostrowski, Magdalen JCR Secretary added, “Even if the government and the University raise financial support limits completely proportionally to the increased cost of coming here, and also reform the effectiveness of the Access scheme to raise its profile, the angry tabloid headline will still read ‘Oxford and Cambridge raise fees to £7000′.”

The decision on the motion must now wait until the JCRs have been consulted. Paul Dwyer, VP for OUSU Access & Academic affairs commented, “I imagine that we will see a wide range of opinions reflected.” He added, “OUSU council would welcome amendments from common rooms, or new ideas to be put forward, so that our final policy can accurately reflect the will of the collective student body.”

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