Friday, 27 February 2015

Ed Milliband’s student fees policy is mind-bogglingly, jaw-droppingly dumb - and vindictive. So no change there then.

I was so bemused by the clueless berk’s announcement that Labour will lower student fees by £3000 to £6000 a year if the British public are idiotic enough to vote for them in May that I actually read several reports just to make sure I hadn’t misheard or misunderstood. I hadn’t. He really has just come up with a policy that makes even less sense (if such a thing were possible) than his promise to freeze energy prices (good luck with than one, comrade).

I’ll admit I was spitting mad when the Coalition increased student fees to £9000 a year, for mainly selfish reasons - the hike coincided with my son packing his bags and heading off to university, which meant that, at a stroke, the cost of his three-year stay was increased by nearly £18,000. My other main objection was that bright kids from disadvantaged backgrounds – the very group all the traditional parties keep telling us they’re simply gagging to help - might be put off going. There was also the fact that, when the government claimed that the vast majority of universities wouldn’t charge the maximum possible fee, it was evidently lying.

On the plus side, there were already far too many young people taking pseudo-academic courses (e.g. Black Studies, Media Studies, American Studies – basically anything with the word “studies” in the title) at jumped-up polytechnics whose main raison d’être (apart from making money and providing employment for lecturers who otherwise wouldn’t be hired to wash dishes in the real world) was to infect the minds of another generation with the virus of cultural Marxism, thus adding to the sum total of perpetually adolescent, semi-educated lefties who would resentfully slouch out into the world to spread the Gospel of Victimhood. If increased fees dissuaded any youngsters from spending three pointless years getting drunk and doing drugs at some depressing grievance factory, all the better – and if this led to some of those grievance factories having to close due to lack of funds, well, great!  

The good news is that, after a dip in applications during that first year, young people are flocking to universities as never before. They’re not all signing up for Queer Theory courses and the like, and the number from disadvantaged backgrounds – helped by various generous subsidies – is increasing. I will happily admit I was wrong about that.

Leaving aside the quality of the education many of these young folk are receiving, and the prospects of getting decent jobs afterwards, the student fees hike seems not to have done much harm. There’s one very good reason for that, as I discovered just a few weeks before Junior flew the nest: the student loans system is actually a graduate tax rather than a loan – it isn’t like a mortgage or a loan from the bank. First, you don’t start paying it back until you’re earning over £21,000 a year. Above that, 9% of your earnings go towards paying off your loan. The higher your earnings, the more you end up paying back, but you do it more quickly  – city lawyers, financiers and brain surgeons should manage it within 12 years or less, while, for lower earners, the pain ends automatically after 30 years. As I said, it’s a graduate tax, with the loan increasing by 3% above inflation. Not great – but not bad. It means moderately well-off parents can choose not to stump up for the fees right at the start, instead investing the money so that they can eventually help their little darlings buy their first property, or fund their entrepreneurial offspring's first business venture – or, of course, the oldsters might simply choose to keep the money and spend it on themselves. Whatever, they know that their children won’t end up in the poorhouse because student loan repayments overwhelmed them.

Sorry to have spelt this out at such length, but I did so on the off-chance that Ed Milliband might happen upon this blog (possibly through having entered the search terms “idiot”, “half-wit”, “moron”, “economic illiterate”, “brainless”, “thick”, “retarded”, and “drooler” into a Google search-box). Because, unless he is even more monumentally stupid that we had previously suspected, he doesn’t understand the student loans system. Here are some questions I’d like the leader of the Labour Party to ask himself:

As increasing tuition fees by almost £18,000 over three years has resulted in more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds applying for university, why would decreasing those fees by £9,000 have any effect?

Why change a system that appears to be achieving the results that you claim you want to achieve?

You propose punishing those with private pensions in order to pay for your policy. Do you actually want to put people off saving money and investing in their future, thereby ultimately placing a greater burden on the state? (Actually, wea ll know the answer to that one.)

Are you trying to create a generational war, or is it just that older people are more likely to vote Conservative and UKIP, and younger people (who have little experience of life) are more likely to vote Labour? (Supplementary question: Are you really that petty?)

Given that a student loan is in effect a graduated tax – i.e. repayment levels depend on what the borrower earns – why would reducing the loan be less beneficial to students from well-off backgrounds than to those with poor parents: surely parental earnings are utterly irrelevant?

Are you – a committed socialist – relaxed about the fact that the graduates who stand to save the most money from your changes will be those in the highest-paid jobs, who, despite your proposed increase of 1% to their repayment rate, will end up repaying less than under the current system? In effect, you intend rewarding them by punishing their rich pensioner parents. (Or am I missing something?)

Every Labour policy announcement these days includes a section purporting to show that the proposed changes will be financially beneficial to the taxpayer. In this instance, Milliband’s argument is that non-repayment of student loans is due to add £16bn more than forecast to the national debt by the end of the next parliament. Which leads me back to the point I made when the Coalition government upped the fees in the first place. Why are we sending so many young people to university who will never earn enough to repay their student loans in full? Economic basket-case countries are full of minicab drivers and waiters with PhDs. As I reckon it would only take another 13 year period of Labour rule to reduce us to the economic status of, say, Iran (or even Venezuela), doesn’t Milliband have a point? (Only a government could come up with a scheme whereby substantially increasing the price of a service which an increasing number of people want to use ends up expanding the national debt by billions of pounds a year.)

The answer, of course, would be to deny access to the student loan system to anyone who chooses a course that has the word “studies” in its title – i.e. if they want to waste three years learning nothing, preparatory to a lifetime earning nothing, they should be made to fund their own tuition, and theyshould be denied access to maintenance grants. The same goes for glorified vocational training courses, which should be paid by the "students" themselves, or by their parents.

I’m not a utilitarian when it comes to education – I studied philosophy, after all - and I would hate to see universities turned into factories for churning out nothing but scientists, engineers, doctors and lawyers. I want young people to be able to study History and English and Greek and Latin: the primary role of university should be to nurture and preserve the best of our culture - and Western civilisation as a whole - rather than to manufacture the next generation of higher-rate tax payers. But one way of keeping the best of our culture alive would surely be to stop funding the likes of Madonna Studies and anything to do with penises that isn't strictly medical on the one hand, and pig enterprise management, knitwear, and beauty therapy courses on the other.

That would save us a few bob in unpaid loans. And, of course, even though it doesn’t have “studies” in its title, and isn’t strictly a business training course, we should quadruple the fees for anyone wanting to study PPE, especially at Oxford – imagine the billions of pounds of government spending that would save!


  1. I'm afraid I rather think he is that petty. As with the constant threat to lower the voting age, Milliband is fiddling with the deck - anything to get a majority.

    After all, they did it with immigration, so we already have cast iron proof that there are no depths to which socialists will not sink in their bid to rule us.

    1. No, you're right - he really would do anything at this stage. Can you imagine how history will treat him if he were to lose this election - an incompetent laughing-stock who ruthlessly stabbed his brother in the back and then LOST? Mind you, I suppose it's nothing to what'll be said about the little twassock if he actually wins and turns the country into a less successful version of Albania.