David Blackburn

Cable manoeuvring on the road to nowhere

Cable manoeuvring on the road to nowhere
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Vince Cable has floated a solution to university finance, but he’s also politicking and I wonder what David Willetts, the Higher Education Minister, makes of it. The coalition agreement does not mention a graduate tax. The agreement merely states that the government will wait for the Browne Report into university funding.

When in opposition, the Liberal Democrats did not support Browne because he was likely to recommend increasing tuition fees. Cable has pre-empted Browne in partisan spirit. If he can convince the government to adopt a graduate tax, he will have abolished tuition fees, which would do him no end of good with Lib Dem voters.

It's typical Cable: eye-catching, pithy and hopeless. Willetts has never mentioned a graduate tax because Browne has not been examining one. And with good reason: a graduate tax would saddle the government with enormous upfront cuts, as money won't be levied until years after students graduate. Shifting the immediate cost of higher education back to the taxpayer is not an option in the current economic climate. Second, universities are categorically opposed to a graduate tax, which would mean they were financially dependent on their students’ future earnings – and, as Fraser notes, Media Studies is not the highroad to riches and neither is being a doctor for Medicin Sans Frontier. Against the backdrop of Labour’s legacy and the education establishment, Cable is doomed to fail. Better luck next time.

PS: Alex Barker has 4 must read objections to the graduate tax.