Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Alan Johnson should have stuck to his guns

Alan Johnson was right to have his doubts about a graduate tax, in today's Times (£), and wrong to have changed his minds. While he is also right to argue against the removal of teaching grants and the moves towards a £9000 ceiling, he should not have allowed himself to be dissuaded from arguing for a fairer version of the Browne proposals, drawing on his own work as higher education minister.

By contrast, there is a great piece in today's Guardian by Peter Wilby, who has long recognised the egalitarian case for fees and rightly argues that the focus of Labour's opposition should be the abolition of EMAs rather than changes to fees:

Once they look coolly at the economics, 18-year-olds make better judgments than their hysterical, ill-informed elders. To describe students as facing a lifelong "burden" of "crippling" debt is simply bizarre, particularly for a Labour leader who wants to replace the debt with a graduate tax that the rich would avoid as smartly as they avoid all other taxes.....Most bizarre of all is the argument that, because graduates of earlier generations benefited from free university education, they should not deny it to others. Should those who went to grammar school never argue for comprehensives, and those who inherited wealth never support higher estate duties? Should those who benefited from slavery not have supported abolition?.....Miliband should focus on the proposal to cut education maintenance grants, which rightly exercises young protesters more than fees. Introduced by Labour and targeted at poorer families, the grants played a vital role in getting more disadvantaged young people to university. It was at 16, not 18, that working-class dropping out from education always occurred. University fees do not deter, but a funding gap during A-level study does.

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