Adam Price’s Blog

The Blog of Adam Price AS/MP, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Adam Price MP / AS - Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

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Archive for February 11th, 2009

11th February 2009

Taxing thought

The consultation on Jane Hutt’s controversial plans to introduce ‘top-up’ tuition fees belatedly into Wales ends on Monday.  I doubt that my party will make a formal submission but I’m certain that the issue will come up in what will undoubtedly prove an interesting meeting of the party’s National Council on the 21st February.   The proposals mirror closely the recommendations of Part One of Merfyn Jones’ review of higher education.  But since the remit was written by the Minister you can’t help thinking that the ink on this particular policy was pretty dry some time ago – whatever the results of the consultation.   There is much emphasis on the need to ”be alert to the ‘England and Wales’ nature of the HE marketplace and the importance of English students to the Welsh HE sector”.  This is not a statement that should sit comfortably with a Government that has Plaid Cymru ministers within it for all kinds of reasons:  education is a public service, a public good not a mere ‘product’ to be bought or sold like detergent; universities are public institutions with social, cultural and economic as well as educational purposes; they need to relate to their locality or region and, in our case, nation, not just function as commercial entities in some amorphous England-and-Wales educational landscape. 

The report was very disapproving of the fact that the tuition fee grant was only available to Welsh-domiciled students who studied at Welsh universities and disadvantaged those students from Wales who chose to study in England and students from elsewhere in the UK who chose to study in Wales.   But surely the current policy (which  it should also be pointed out subsidises non-UK EU students who have to receive the same as Welsh-domiciled students) has had two beneficial effects: a more internationally diverse student population and a higher proportion of Welsh students studying at Welsh institutions.  Since a very high proportion of students stay on in their university town after graduation then incentivising a higher proportion of our students to stay in Wales for their education is a vital component in the effort to reverse the brain drain to London and the South-East.

The bigger underlying problems with the policy are that it represents a craven acceptance of the whole idea of tuition fees and the logic of a marketplace in education and it cements in people’s minds the connection between education and debt.  Tha is why we as a party rejected the policy of top-up fees earlier in the decade and that is why the party must continue to reject these proposals now.  A fairer alternative – if we are unable as yet to fund it simply through general taxation – would be to introduce a progressive and hypothecated graduate tax payable over twenty or twenty five years.  if these proposals are defeated, amended or deferred the Welsh Assembly Government could declare it support for a Welsh Graduate Tax through its submission to the Holtham Commission or apply for a legislative competence order – it is after all a matter related to the ‘education and training’ field under Part 3 of the Government of Wales act 2006.  I wonder what Alun Michael would say about that.