A proposal for a graduate tax scheme made by Business Secretary Vince Cable has increased the possibility that recommendations submitted by OUSU and the NUS proposal could be implemented as a result of the Browne Review of higher education funding.
Cable’s proposal suggests that students should pay for their fees through the tax system, that high-earning graduates pay more than those on lower incomes, and that there should be no up-front tuition fees.
Students ‘almost certainly will have to pay more’ said Cable, adding that he had asked Lord Browne to look at the idea of a graduate tax ‘as a priority’.
OUSU welcomed Vince Cable’s proposals as ‘the most progressive and the most sustainable answer’ to the question of higher education funding.
‘Of course the devil is in the detail of any proposed graduate tax, and Oxford students will not be conned by high-flown rhetoric with no substance’ said President David Barclay. ‘However, this speech has shattered forever the complacent myth that fee rises are inevitable.’
Lesley Sims, Oxford University’s Head of the Planning and Resource Allocation, said that Mr Cable’s proposals were ‘fine’, but emphasized that ‘there are many ways in which it can be interpreted – too many people see it as the NUS Blueprint.’
Earlier this year OUSU made its submission to the Browne Review, supporting the NUS Blueprint for a graduate tax. According to the NUS proposal, the collection and distribution of funds would be centralised, and individual fees at the institutional level would be abolished.
However, Oxford also made a submission to the Browne Review, in which the university says that ‘we do not support a Graduate Tax, because we do not wish to make the University more dependent on national funding decisions, at a time when we could be taking greater responsibility for developing our own provision and funding arrangements.’
The university’s main proposal was an ‘income-contingent graduate contribution scheme’ in which institutions would have the right to set their own fee level. Although the amount that a student would have to repay would also be linked to earnings, this amount would be decided by each individual university.
‘If there is diversity in the university sector, it should be reflected in the fees,’ said Anthony Monaco, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University. He also warned that ‘the problem with a graduate tax is that graduates could have to pay back amounts much larger than the fee.’
The Russell Group, in its own proposal to the Browne Review, also said that is necessary to ‘vary prices from institution to institution’ as well as ‘from subject to subject.’
Following Mr Cable’s speech, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said that ‘we do not agree that a pure graduate tax would be a better or a fairer system’, arguing that it would lead to overpayment on the part of the highest-earning graduates.
OUSU however, has said that variable fees would deter students from lower-income bands from applying, and that a graduate tax is the only scheme that would provide fair access.
‘Given Oxford’s history of able candidates being deterred from applying, we are keenly aware of the need for a new system which will allow students from every conceivable background access to a high quality and life-changing education’ said Barclay.
‘I hope that Vince Cable’s speech will have a large influence on the Browne review in combating what has until this point seemed an inevitable momentum towards lifting the cap on tuition fees.’
The results of the Browne Review are expected to come out in autumn.