I wrote a piece the other day pondering why we hadn't just called the new student fee system a graduate tax. Paid for by the student, over time, according to income, taken from salary. Sounds like a tax to me.
And I still think that. But two responses to my post have given me food for thought.
The first was a suggestion from Duncan Stott that the Treasury may have prevented ministers from referring to the new system as a graduate tax. This would be fascinating if true. So I have bunged in a Freedom of Information request to the DBIS asking what advice Ministers were given on this. If/when I get a reply, I'll be blogging.....
The second was a note from Tim Holyoake. He's woken me up to the fact that Open University students studying for an equivalent or lower level degree to one they already hold will have to pay their fees up front from next year. While current students are exempt from the new system, new students are not. With annual fees of £5000, many potential students will be priced out of the system. There's an excellent piece describing the issue in the TES.
Now, I suspect this is to do with prioritisation. Where there is money, we have chosen as a party to direct it towards the youngest in society, through initiatives like the pupil premium and free nursery places, where we believe tight funds can get the best results and have the most profound impact. I agree with this approach.
But I cannot pretend that the knock on effect of this sits easily with me. As Liberals we are philosophically wedded to the notion of giving every individual the opportunity to make more of their lives - and the best chance of delivering that must come through life long learning. A quick Google search indicates we have had very little to say on this subject since May last year - which is surprising.
It's an example of where we've had to make a tough choice due to the state of the economy.
But it's one we should re examine at the earliest opportunity.