Busy warning universities of tough times ahead, ministers need to find cuts fast to placate George Osborne. Cut research science? Or apprenticeships? No thanks. They need Browne to extract more money from graduates and quickly. But a pure graduate tax does not do that quickly enough. It would exclude those who do not pay UK income tax or chose to graduate abroad. There would have to be cut-offs and exemptions, as Browne’s researchers are discovering.
Worse for universities it would again centralise funding, making them more dependent on Treasury goodwill, not less as Blair-Brown intended in creating annual fees, one of their more important public sector reforms, vital to maintaining the triple-A status of this key British export industry. Browne is all but certain to propose lifting the fee cap, currently £3,250, unpopular but necessary if Oxbridge is to charge more than Bogstandard Uni.
Among the evidence submitted to Browne, proposals from the University Alliance, the group of mostly ex-poly access universities, envisages a graduate contribution scheme (GSC). It would simplify the system, cap graduates’ lifetime liabilities, and charge the full cost of loans (not the same as a commercial rate) which would be raised and paid upfront from the private sector. The poorest would be protected, the link with one’s university maintained.
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