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Trouble ahead on university funding - Tom Bewick, The Guardian, 5 janvier 2009

dimanche 10 janvier 2010, par Elie

Higher education funding will be a battleground as rival factions line up to say who should pay for degrees

There are many imponderables ahead in 2010, but two things can be predicted with a degree of certainty. One, there will be a general election and two, the higher education funding debate will be a battleground.

The NUS and others that support the idea that the taxpayer should pick up the cost of higher education will be in one corner. In the opposite corner will be the vice-chancellors, who will want to see the cap on fees lifted, thus putting a greater financial burden on students.

I’m not against lifting the artificial cap on fees, as long as it’s part of a coherent strategy that extends opportunity and provides more support for poorer students. There are still inequalities. A recent study found that less than 3% of care leavers go to university. In these fiscally challenged times, however, individuals, their parents or the state can’t be expected to pay more towards the cost of higher education. Instead, it’s time to find a system that more fairly divides the cost between the state, individuals and employers.

I estimate that the country could raise over £250m each year to invest in higher education by charging organisations that employ graduates a hire premium of 10% on their first year’s salary. The graduate hire premium wouldn’t be too difficult to collect and it would be hard to evade : the means of collection already exist within the income tax system. It could provide a significant amount of money to invest in higher education and a clear industry contribution to developing a world-class teaching and research system. Arguably, it’s a much fairer "tax on jobs" than the recent hike in national insurance.

Some employers are likely to cry foul and argue that a hire premium will put them off recruiting graduates. But how else do you square the circle, when those very same employers are saying they want a better educated workforce ?

A graduate hire premium may help to counter one of the more negative effects of higher education growth. In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in the number of employers recruiting graduates to do jobs that traditionally don’t require a degree, squeezing non-graduates out of many entry-level jobs. In the creative industries this trend has made it almost impossible for those without a degree to enter the sector. Today, it would be unthinkable for someone like Charles Saatchi to begin working in the post room of an advertising agency and rise to the top.

The graduate hire premium would make employers think twice, encouraging them to only hire people with degrees to do graduate-level jobs. The effect would be that graduates would get the sort of jobs they trained for. It would also give people without degrees a fighting chance of getting into the workforce ; currently one in five under-25s are unemployed.

In any discussion about higher education funding, there’s often an elephant in the room. If individuals are being asked to make a greater contribution to the cost of higher education, how can they be sure they are investing wisely ?

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