From deep in the cavern of bad policy ideas, the National Union of Students (NUS) have pulled out a cracker: former students should pay up to 2.5 per cent of their salary for 20 years after graduating to fund higher education. The tax would be levied depending on earnings.
The NUS’ policy is essentially a tax upon success. Those students who have worked and sacrificed to get into a top university, who while at university studied a demanding subject and focused more on study than the pub, who came out with the grades and skills to get a decent job that demands yet more work and sacrifice, will be paying for the education of the of lazy students ‘studying’ in third-rate universities. This is not meritocracy, quite the opposite in fact.
The impact of this tax would certainly send the top students abroad to study and or work. Many of the best and the brightest would prefer to pay an upfront payment for their education abroad instead of having their salary jacked by the government for twenty years; else they will take the benefits of a British education, only to work abroad, no doubt avoiding repayments entirely.
Only when education is truly liberalized will we see a meritocratic system emerge. Of course, those young people with no financial means who fail to qualify for a bursary will indeed have to borrow in order to be educated and the better the education the more the cost. But crucially it will then be their decision as to whether or not the education is worth that level of investment. This would be a meritocracy. If the students do not consider the education to be worth getting into debt over, they can and will choose to spend their productive energy in another direction.