Oh, no. Not students again.

Every government since at least the Thatcher government has at one stage or other tried to tackle the hoary old subject of student finance.

Each and every government has given as their aim the widening and broadening of access to Universities.

Back in the days of bad fashion tastes, bad hair cuts, riots, Miners strikes and Maggie people from well off families got to send their offspring to university for a fully taxpayer-funded jolly. Students received grants that they did not even have to repay. Those from richer families got lower levels of grant but because they were entitled to claim Housing Benefit they could make up that shortfall.

Everyone was happy except for the students who were not from rich families.

To widen access without paying for it the Thatcher government scrapped housing benefit payments to single students, froze grants and introduced a student loans element. The grant was to remain frozen. The student loan would increase each year to increase by an amount to reflect inflation for the combined loan and grant.

John Major towards the end of his government wanted to further increase the numbers of students going to university. So he commissioned the Dearing Report on Student Finance. He got booted out before he could implement it. It proposed a 100% loan system of student finance but advised against fees.

In their 1997 manifesto Labour said that they completely opposed the Dearing Report and said that they would put forward different proposals to its option of loans or fees. They did. They scrapped student grants entirely and introduced fees.

Labour tinkered with student finance again later but the principle of fees and loans was maintained, unless you were luck enough to come from the principalities of Scotland and Wales, who do not have to pay at all.

In line with future budget cuts and a desire to see even more students packed in to universities, Labour commissioned the Browne report. Then Labour got booted out before it actually reported. No one Party got elected so the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives formed a coalition government.

George Osborne, the Conservative Chancellor, supposedly wants to eat students for breakfast and thinks that they should live in cardboard boxes inside the university. That is if you believe the National Union of Students.

Before the election, Vince Cable was a hero to students. They wanted to abolish fees and loans and give all students a free pony. The pony promise did not quite make it to the manifesto but there was a commitment not to raise the cap on the level of fees.

Now they are in coalition and the baby eating Tory Chancellor and the man who foretold of the recession have to meet minds. The Browne report is out and the government has to respond. So the baby eating Chancellor is going to pretty much wipe out funding to Universities and ask students to replace that funding through an increased level of fees, with various goodies to make it “fair” . That of course is causing a great deal of unhappiness with the Liberal Democrats.

The coalition should look at the US model of student support.

They have a scheme that provides the necessary funding to Universities and is fair to students.

Their University fees are high but the reality is that the “fee” does not matter. Consider it to be a maximum payment for a graduate income tax. What matters to students is the level of debt and whether they could afford to re-pay that level of debt. So if the Universities of Oxbridge want to “charge” £100,000 let them.

What makes the US system fair is that as a result of the Obama reforms, loan re-payments are capped at 10 percent of disposable income. Even prior to that reform it was capped at 15 percent.

Debts are rescinded after 20 years (it was 25). What would be more controversial here is that after ten years the debts of public servants such as teachers, nurses, and members of the armed forces are rescinded. I’m not sure the baby eaters would support that.

They have a now greatly increased pell grant system, which are essentially student grants for those on low incomes and of course the US is famous for its bursary system. The Pell Grant system is under pressure at the moment because it was increased through the stimulus bill and more permanent funding needs to be found, also like here as a result of the recession there are more people choosing university than unemployment.

It seems to me it is a much better system than the initial response to Browne being sold by Saint Vince and the monster Osborne. It is nearer to the graduate income tax, but it does have a final point that means no-one pays much more than the value of their education and it allows Universities to have a fully variable fees system.

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