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Posted on 15 July 2010 at 17:02 GMT

Lib Dems propose student graduate tax: Students must fight for free education

The Lib Dem Business and Skills secretary, Vince Cable, has asked the higher education funding review, chaired by Lord Browne, to consider his proposal of a graduate tax as an alternative to higher tuition fees.

Matt Dobson

Under Cable's system the government would pay the amount charged in fees directly to universities instead of lending money through the Student Loan Company to students to cover the cost.

Currently in England and Northern Ireland students pay annual fees of 3,225 a year, payable after graduation.

It is clear that Cable and his Lib Dem supporters are not arguing for a graduate tax out of any genuine concern for the financial position of students.

The national union of students (NUS) has criticised Cable's proposal, expressing fears that a non-means tested graduate tax, which would begin at the basic tax threshold, could mean poorer students paying even more than under the fees system.

This is because a graduate tax will be deducted using the present tax banding system, as opposed to the current student loan repayment system, where nothing is charged while your earnings are below 15,000.

The UCU lecturers' trade union has correctly called Cable's graduate tax a "rebranding exercise" and a "con".

Cable is trying to persuade his Tory coalition partners that the graduate tax brand is easier to sell to students than higher fees.

Tory universities minister David Willetts strongly hinted in June that the Conservatives were in favour of a gradual increase in fees, leading to lifting the cap completely on tuition fees, rather than a graduate tax.

This is supported by the Russell Group of elite universities. Cable and the other Lib Dem ministers have signed up to a coalition government with the Tories, alienating many students who had hopes in their false election promises to scrap fees.

The agreement means, if, as is likely, the Tories accept Browne's recommendations for a rise in fees, the majority of Lib Dem MPs would only abstain on a vote in parliament, thus protecting the coalition's existence at the expense of students.

But either option will mean students will pay a heavy price. Cable's proposals for higher education also included recommendations to increase the number of privately run universities and to slash many university courses down to two year degrees run on the cheap.

Cable agrees with the Tory agenda of huge cut-backs in higher education, forcing students to pay now or later, with increased charges and more debt.

Staff face job losses and the race to the bottom in terms and conditions which will attend an expansion of private universities.

Labour leadership candidates Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have now also jumped on the graduate tax bandwagon after being ministers in the New Labour era which introduced tuition fees.

Their supporters in the right-wing NUS leadership have let politicians get away with proposing a graduate tax as a progressive alternative to fees by abandoning the policy of fighting for free education and living grants and calling for a means-tested graduate tax.

In contrast Socialist Students and Youth Fight for Jobs have consistently opposed any plans for a graduate tax or increased fees.

Politicians like Cable want to tax students and graduates but let the bankers and the rich avoid tax.

The emergency budget lowered corporation tax for big business, which already makes huge profits out of universities.

This wealth could help to fund free, fully publicly-funded education at all levels and living grants for all students.

Socialist Students and Youth Fight for Jobs are active in the fightback against cuts, fees and privatisation in universities and colleges across the country.

We call for a united campaign, involving the participation of the student population, the trade unions and the wider working class in mass action, including national demonstrations and student strikes, to begin in the autumn.

This way we can start to fight the plans of the Con-Dem government.

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