Thursday, 20 December 2007

Graduate Endowment No More!

Great news! MSPs today voted to scrap the Graduate Endowment, albeit narrowly.

I know I should be more charitable, given that Christmas is fast approaching - but I simply cannot believe the twisted logic that was presented as arguments against scrapping this unfair tuition fee.

Yes, universities could always do with more funding. When I was at university (an increasingly long time ago now), they were crying out for cash. They are crying out for more cash today, and I'm sure they will be doing so from now until the end of time.

All of our public services, for example, could do with more cash. The NHS would benefit from more money. Our schools could do with more money too. Scotland has suffered from massive underinvestment in our infrastructure for decades - public transport needs a massive cash injection, and so many of our roads are downright dangerous. We need investment across the board to make Scotland a better place to live - but we only have a certain amount of money to allocate.

So, yes, I get it - universities would like more money. But why does it follow that students should be getting into more debt to pay for it? Students already have to shoulder a huge amount of debt, just to get an education. Tuition fees and a steady erosion of student grants has massively contributed to the culture of debt that is now endemic in our society. This is not a simple matter (as many argue) of ensuring that people who are able to access higher education contribute financially to the cost of that education, in return for the 'benefit' they receive from it. If people earn more because of their education, then they will contribute more back to the state and wider society through higher taxes. If they don't benefit financially from higher education relative to what they might have earned otherwise, then they won't pay higher taxes. The idea is progressive taxation. It's something that the Labour Party once believed in. Why should a social worker pay the same back to the state in the form of a tuition fee than someone who becomes a high-earning lawyer? The Graduate Endowment was a regressive tax.

And for Labour's Rhona Brankin to argue that "abolishing the endowment does not tackle access issues and it does not tackle issues of student poverty" is missing the point entirely. Scrapping the Graduate Endowment does not, on its own, ensure that access to universities is widened or that the issue of student debt will be solved. Indeed not. But it's a start, and it's more than the Labour Party would have done for students had they been returned to government in May!

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