Learn now pay later (when you can afford it)
Before I sat down to write this, I googled ‘degree in university funding’. No results found. This was a blow because with the complexity of issues involved, the myriad of different viewpoints on offer and the sheer volume of information in the media, a degree course - covering perhaps economics, politics, ethics and psychology - would have come in handy.
To be honest, with around a decade in hand before my eldest heads off to university, assuming he follows that route, I haven’t seriously thought about the financial implications. Just re-reading that sentence now makes me feel more than a tad nervous. At some point in the future my partner and I might be supporting three full- time students. When I have given it a passing thought, and given Scotland’s tradition of delivering higher education free at the point of delivery, I assumed we’d be forking out for accommodation and other living expenses, not facing the prospect of paying tens of thousands of pounds in fees.
As things stand the Scottish Government has pledged not to introduce upfront tuition fees. But in the face of budget constraints, if a week is a long time in politics what changes will the next decade bring?
I’ve struggled to work out where I stand on the issue. I’ve thought long and hard about my opposition to both fees and a graduate tax. To my Scottish psyche, tuition fees are a definite no, but maybe now is a good time for everybody to become a little more open-minded.
A green paper on the subject of Scottish higher education funding is to be published in December, after cross party and public consultation. With both the president of the NUS Scotland and Universities Scotland, who represent Scotland’s university principals, backing some form of graduate contribution, it’s apparent people have been freeing up their thinking and not just rigidly sticking to their old ideals for the sake of them.
My gut reaction in the past has been against a graduate tax, but thinking about it from first principles, it may well be the lesser of many evils. One of the main reasons I have been opposed to any form of personal funding of higher education, is the idea that it would put off potential students from deprived backgrounds. Research has shown fees at a certain level can be off putting to certain socio-economic groups. A clearly outlined graduate tax could side-step this obstacle.
Many parents across Scotland with children approaching university age may well breathe a sigh of relief at the idea of a graduate tax. Firstly it puts fees firmly on the back burner, at least for the present. A top-up tax kicking in at £28,000, for example, would be noticeable but relatively painless. It’s even been suggested that the revenue raised could be used to help future students facing financial difficulties.
I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that politicians, parents, students, educators and all other parties with a vested interest in our children and our society’s future keep an open mind when figuring out a fair but pragmatic way to proceed. Maybe along the way we can all learn a thing or two.
Flora Napier works for BBC Learning Scotland.