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From firstname.lastname@example.org Wed Jan 21 16:35:45 2004 Return-path:
Date: Wed, 21 Jan 2004 16:35:44 +0000 (GMT) From: Tim Williams [Research Associate] To: Aaron Sloman Subject: Re: letter to my MP about top-up fees Aaron, if you want something else to mention regarding joined up thinking, you could mention that the whole issue of the student fees has been considered in total isolation to other financial factors which new graduates have to face, namely current sky high house prices and the fact that we are being told we now have to save vast ammounts of money for pensions, starting as soon as we start work if we are to stand any chance of getting a decent retirement. I haven't done the sums, but it wouldn't surprise me if in some cases for people just over the re-payment threshold, you could end up with a very high proportion of your after tax income simply going straight out again. This was mentioned by a med student in the newsnight debate on monday evening, the first time I have ever heard it mentioned on television, radio or newspapers. Tim W -- Tim Williams BSc MSc GIBiol - Research Associate (Autotrain Project) University of Birmingham School of Computer Science Home Page : http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/~tmw Tel : +44 (0)121 414 2214 (ext 42214 on internal phone) ----------------------------------------------------------------------- From email@example.com Wed Jan 21 17:35:48 2004 Return-path: From: "David J. Brooks" [PhD student] To: "Aaron Sloman" References: <200401211600.i0LG0PLG032519@acws-0051.cs.bham.ac.uk> Subject: Re: letter to my MP about top-up fees Date: Wed, 21 Jan 2004 17:35:53 -0000 Dear Aaron, [Omitted typos mentioned now fixed] My primary concern is with the motivation for the current top-up proposals, which I do not believe are aimed at minimising cost for high earners - rather, they are aimed at keeping an already floundering system in operation. The government perceives this system to be good because it treats everyone as equals: everyone (or a majority of the population) will get good GCSEs, good AS levels, a degree, etc., in the name of making everyone feel happy that they are being treated equally. In reality, this is useless, since it devalues these qualifications, and means that there is little chance of distinguishing people who are able from those who are not. However, it is a popular system, for the following reasons: - it reduces perceived class divides (since anyone can achieve the same thing) - it reduces the typical British resentment of education (since it is no longer elitist) - it allows 50% of the population to do very little for three years except drink and socialise. - it reduces unemployment (two reasons: everyone can be a student instead; and inefficient civil administration tasks such as dealing with loans/top-up fees provide jobs). In reality, this happiness means: - we have lowered our standards to be inclusive rather than exclusive - without a challenging education, average intelligence will probably decline (have you seen the US version of Weakest Link?). - it becomes harder to discriminate good from bad (which makes it harder for any type of business/academia to make progress). My question is: what is wrong in being better than someone else at something? It is often pride or prestige that drives people to better themselves, which can only be a good thing. We should not be striving for equality. What the government should be aiming at is equal *opportunities*: that is, where people are good at doing something, they should be able to further their ability without being stopped short by costs, social pressure, etc. This is a fundamentally different proposition to "everyone achieving the same standards". Rather than lowering standards to be all-inclusive, we are much better off discriminating between people on the basis of some standards (be they academic, research oriented, vocationar, or anything else), and discovering and nurturing talent. This seemed to be the purpose of the old grammar/comprehensive split, and also something that universities used to do. We have moved on from this grand old aim of educating people, to putting education as a secondary concern after making money. I can give an example from within our own School, that disgusted me. At the beginning of term I was told (by someone who will remain anonymous) that it is much better to have a really low learning curve (approaching nothing at all) so that we can keep minimise drop-out rates, and keep students in until their payment comes in. I respect the person who said this to me, and I know that they would much rather educate than simply farm money, but that is what the current setup encourages. In short, I agree with some of your proposals, and will do anything I can to support you in this (any suggestions). However, I feel your points about rethinking the whole system don't go far enough. We need a fundamental analysis of the goals of national education, an a coherent policy for education based on this analysis - not just related to post-school education. We need to regain our standards, and no amount of tax (stealth or otherwise) can make this happen. Regards, David ----------------------------------------------------------------------- From firstname.lastname@example.org Fri Jan 23 10:42:28 2004 Return-path: Reply-To: From: "Professor Noel Sharkey" To: "'Aaron Sloman'" Subject: RE: the top-up fees debate -- what isn't said Date: Fri, 23 Jan 2004 10:42:05 -0000 Organization: University of Sheffield Dear Aaron, Good for you! I strongly concur with much of your letter and some for personal reasons. I am happy to have my comments used in whatever way you choose. I am from a strong working class background where debt would not have been an option. I was also one of your Late Category entering university at age 28yrs having left school at 15yrs. I only did it through a desire for scholarship - not to get a job. I am very clear that I would not have entered university under the current system of fees. Well at least that would have been one professor less to pay. In my 13 years (between school and university) working in many jobs, particularly building sites, I met many very clever people - some of the smartest were general labourers who swept floors for a living because of sheer frustration. This is a very poor way to use talent that did not happen to fit in with the school education system for one reason or another (like myself). It was hard enough for me nearly 30 years ago but now it would be next to impossible and, if the top up fees become a reality, it would not be a possibility at all. best regards, noel Noel Sharkey Professor of Computer Science EPSRC Senior Media Fellow University of Sheffield email: email@example.com voicemail: +44 (0)114 2221803 fax: +44 (0)114 2221810 ----------------------------------------------------------------------- From firstname.lastname@example.org Fri Jan 23 10:47:47 2004 Return-path: To: Aaron Sloman cc: Jon.Crowcroft@cl.cam.ac.uk Subject: Re: the top-up fees debate -- what isn't said Date: Fri, 23 Jan 2004 10:47:50 +0000 From: Jon Crowcroft well said... Comments for you to add to your web if you like ----------------------------------------- Irrespective of ethics, has anyone looked at the available income and its distribution over the population over the next 5-10 years, from the proposed 50% of people who the government wish to go to University? If the idea is that Universities are mainly serving middle-class and wealthy people, then the income currently attracted is already at a maximum from them - the increase from 40% to 50% will be drawn largely from groups who haev no income. Therefore the mechanism of a means tested fee will be implemented mainly on people who would simply pay more if the base tax rate was raised, and not on the new people - the cost advantage of raising the money through the Inland Revenue is simple efficiency - it does away with several iniquities that will be inevitable if someone is assessed on their parents means before they go to unviersity, and then pays back after, if their income is high enough (this is clear if you think about the possible upward and downward trends that could affect various families and various careers). Another problem with the fees mechanism is that it creates an expectation that the Universities will raise some money through fees and some from the central tax - this creates an opportunity for the Treasury to put pressure on the Department for Education to reduce the central allocation in favour of fees, which is not feasible when the entire source of revenue is from central taxation. It is inevitable that this will happen, when you look at past attempts at mixed economies. A third problem with the fees mechanism is the notion that the "user" gained an unfair advantage by going to University- if we compare the many Physics graduates in the world of insurance today, they could have becoem accountants day one, like their colleagues. However, they chose to study (perhaps to PhD level) and lose income from school leaving age until the time when they switch to accountancy. There are many such career trends. The loss of earnings is hard to compute. But what is clear is that it is not a always a gain to go to University, and this is not allowed for in the scheme whatsoever. What is particulalry ironic is that the amongst largest employers of graduates are the Health Service and the Education System - if the people who graduate earn more from the state, but have to repay their fees, and this is set against loans from the City, the state is effectively moving money from the state to the banks. Finally, as has been said time and again, central taxation is to support services that are of national value. The National Governemtn asserts that it is of national priority to increase the number of people going to University - if this is the case, all in the nation benefit, not just those going. Why should those who would have gone anyway, alone foot the bill for those who wouldn't have gone without this policy? It is clear that all who can pay, should. As has been said time and again, an educated population is a national resource. As you say, the proposals are completely irrelevant to the actual requirements of the Universities, and so I will not rehearse those arguments you have already made well. cheers jon ----------------------------------------------------------------------- From email@example.com Fri Jan 23 10:48:34 2004 Return-path: From: Mark Steedman Date: Fri, 23 Jan 2004 10:48:36 +0000 Organization: School of Informatics, The University of Edinburgh Subject: Re: the top-up fees debate -- what isn't said See also the leader in today's Economist. M Mark Steedman School of Informatics University of Edinburgh 2 Buccleuch Place EDINBURGH, EH8 9LW Scotland, United Kingdom email: firstname.lastname@example.org tel: (0)131 650 4631 Fax: (0)131 650 6626 www: http://www.informatics.ed.ac.uk/~steedman/home.html ----------------------------------------------------------------------- From P.Ross@napier.ac.uk Fri Jan 23 15:53:23 2004 Return-path: Date: Fri, 23 Jan 2004 15:53:53 +0000 (GMT) From: Peter Ross To: Aaron Sloman Subject: Re: the top-up fees debate -- what isn't said Dear Aaron, Jan 23 2004 I read your letter to Lynne Jones with great interest. I am not in favour of variable top-up fees, nor even in favour of a system that taxes the graduates later. Your letter asked whether the cost of administering the proposed system had been costed. I have little doubt that it has been costed, but one of my concerns is on what basis the whole scheme has been costed; the details are not readily available. The Prime Minister and others have played upon the fact that the cost, to those who just qualify to make repayments, will be around ten pounds per week and surely that's not much? However, the costs to those earning more than the threshold does go up remarkably quickly, and like many others I foresee that many graduates will have trouble keeping up repayments and also starting a family or living sufficiently above penury not to consider leaving for a better-paid life abroad if they can. But there are further factors to consider. Once the participation rate of 50% has been reached in England and Wales, employers won't need to pay much of a premium for degree holders, so like others I am skeptical about the argument that a degree will continue to be a value-for-money advantage in the longer run. The money paid back by degree holders will also flow to universities (it is claimed), and therefore won't be circulating in the general economy to the same extent because it seems to me that the money circulation through universities can be more sluggish than through other routes; it gets tied up in property and in debt commitments, for example. So I suspect the taxing of future graduates will have some bad knock-on effects on important parts of the UK economy, and I'd like to see the figures on that. Personally, I would rather that income tax was increased generally. Goverment thinking seems to value degrees in terms of quantifiable money and to look on universities as providers of training rather than education; the economic and social benefits of having a generally well-educated population seem high to me, but almost impossible to quantify well and unequivocally in financial terms. The system needs money, but rather than "users pay" I'd prefer a policy of "beneficiaries pay", and that's all of us. And universities could be asked to do more to make that clearly so. Your letter sketches out a post-school education framework. I'm not sure I would agree with all of it, but I agree that the current level of debate is depressing. Scotland is held up as an example of a country that has achieved a 50% participation rate. Tom Knight, chief executive of the Association of Scottish Colleges, makes some nice points in a letter in today's (Glasgow) Herald. Although Scotland has a 51.5% participation rate, as measured by the Age Participation Index for those under 21, a hefty proportion of those are doing a higher national qualification (HNC, in one year, or HND, in two years) at further education colleges rather than at universities. When mature students and part-timers are included, FE colleges are the entry point into HE for around 60% of students. There are schemes whereby students do their first two years in an FE college and then proceed to a university for the other two. This contrasts with what seems to be the thinking down south, that universities should introduce two-year foundation degrees as a way of increasing the participation rate. It is common to point to US universities as models of what UK universities should be like. One of the major differences is, of course, that many US univerities have over the last decade of so generated very substantial endowments which provide 5-30% of their income (see http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,9830,964306,00.html for some facts on this). In 2002, at least 45 US universities had endowments of over a billion dollars each, and this year the value of their endowments has been rising, after falls in the last couple of years; in the UK, only the three best-endowed managed to reach even one-tenth of that amount. It seems to me that many UK universities are not yet in a position to attract substantial endowments and although the white paper says the government wants to do what it can to promote endowments, it's not doing much that's useful. Maybe, if universities manage to become attractive to endowments, the horribly long-term strategy of taxation of graduates might not seem so essential. Yours, Peter Ross [Feel free to add this to the website if you wish.] ----------------------------------------------------------------------- From email@example.com Sat Jan 24 19:03:15 2004 Return-path: From: "Martyn Thomas" To: "Aaron Sloman" Subject: RE: your letter Date: Sat, 24 Jan 2004 19:04:23 -0000 Aaron, Good letter. I share your point of view. In my view, university tuition fees are unfair, illogical and dangerous. They are unfair because the expansion of universities was based on the need for a modern economy to have many more people educated to degree level. Better and wider education is a public good and we should all pay for it according to our ability, through taxation. It is unfair to put the burden on to the students who will already pay for any increase in their salaries through higher income tax. It is doubly unfair to put the burden just on those students who do not qualify for financial support, most of whom will not have gained any direct benefit from the expansion of university courses. The Government, rightly, has recently increased the stipend that is paid to students studying for PhDs, because it is important to the UK that we increase the number of our brightest students who stay on to do research degrees. Yet the arguments that have been used to justify to-up fees for undergraduates would apply with equal force to PhD students where the opposite policy has been implemented. This is illogical. Accepting the Government's case - that those who benefit most directly should pay - is dangerous. This argument could be used to justify charging sixth-form students, patients using the health service, or citizens using libraries and museums. Is this really the mean-minded society we want our children to inherit? Regards Martyn Thomas