Letter: A good way to tax

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Your leading article on student loans (6 June) is self-contradictory. On the one hand, you maintain that we have failed to get the message across on the new system for funding higher education; on the other you repeat once again the arguments which we have made on every possible occasion since David Blunkett announced the Government's response to Dearing last July. This was a tough decision - but it was a nettle which any government would have had to grasp. As we did so, we explained our position clearly both within the Labour Party and, more importantly, to those students thinking about going to university later this year.

On both counts, we have been successful. The fact is that the opposition to our proposals has been relatively muted. The previous government took fright from addressing this issue and slashed the per-capita funding of students instead. We took tough decisions and explained our case. In doing so, we have seen an increase in applications from school-leavers to go to university this year and David Blunkett got the overwhelming support of the Labour Party conference last year. A recent MORI poll gave the Government a six-fold lead over the Conservatives on handling education issues.

We have "hammered home" the points you make. But because there has not been significant opposition, there has not been significant press coverage in recent months. What coverage there has been has reflected precisely the points you highlight. However, in communicating directly with hundreds of thousands school-leavers with a carefully targeted advertising and leaflet campaign, we have got across the message that our proposals are fair and represent a good deal for those who earn more as graduates.

KIM HOWELLS

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State

Department for Education and Employment

London SW1

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