Education letters: The rich are quite able to pay for the cost of universities

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Neither side in the tuition fees debate has yet to concede defeat, judging by the letters we receive. Other topics this week include the qualification and motivation of teachers, with one writer saying that their shortcomings are all to evident. Another contributor says that the metamorphosis of polytechnics was allowed to happen the wrong way ...

GRADUATE TAX

A graduate on pounds 20,000 per annum will suffer deductions of 33 per cent on their marginal income under current taxation, including National Insurance contributions. Only 40 per cent is taken from someone with a salary of six, seven or eight figures, and there are many.

Other than salaries, the six-figure people will have dividends, plus tax-free income from PEPs, capital gains and so on. They will enjoy tax relief on pension contributions higher than the total income enjoyed by most of us. They will not need to insure their mortgage to cover the gap between losing their job and the Jobseekers Allowance kicking in.

If we were a nation of subsistence farmers, moving our goods about with packhorses over muddy tracks, subjected to the unrestrained depredations of bandits, it would not be possible for the top people in business to obtain these huge incomes. Taxes provide the infrastructures of education, transport, law and order, and much else on which these incomes ultimately depend. Since those on the highest salaries get more benefit than anyone else from this expenditure, surely it is they who should pay increased taxes, not graduates (Your Views, Education+, 13 November).

A written Treasury reply in the Commons in 1993 said that the six-figure people were enjoying extra spending money of pounds 6bn per annum as a result of tax changes in the preceding 14 years. Since then, they have continued to enjoy pay rises well into double figures. Clearly they could give up some of this without having to cut back too much on their Tesco bills.

Our graduates then need not start work in debt, and would pay the extra tax when their earnings got to that level.

I write as a retired graduate who wants to see plenty of well educated applicants for the vacancies in those companies whose dividend payments make my life comfortable.

W.J. Hyde, West Malling, Kent.

TUITION FEES

While your article on tuition fees ("Britain's missing students: they'd love to go to university but they just can't face the debts", Education+, 13 November) made interesting reading, it missed the crux of the matter. Someone has to pay for the academic training of the next generation and the choices are: the state, parents or the students.

In past years the old-style "means" test led to parents and the state bearing the brunt of the cost jointly. Even so, as a university student in the Seventies, I found myself avoiding bars and clubs to earn enough to live, my parents finding it impossible to give me what the government judged suitable. My degree, with a postgraduate qualification in maths teaching, led to a job with a higher salary than I could have obtained had I not attended university. This criterion is crucial to the current situation: generally, students will gain financially from university. It is not unreasonable for them to support those who follow, by paying back part of the high cost of their education.

Easier A-levels (something I became acutely aware of in my 10 years as a teacher) and the adoption of polytechnics into the university system has led to a larger potential intake of students into higher education. This expansion has to be catered for financially.

Few 18-year-olds will have mounting debts before university. To avail themselves of our high standard of further education, they must accept the payback scenario as a way of life, much as home-owners do with a mortgage. Such a situation should lead to fewer time-wasters and a lower drop-out level. What can be argued about is the level and manner of repayment.

A degree of sympathy must be felt for mature students, whose ventures into life will probably have left them in debt. However, many who fall into this category had their chance to enter the university system at the right time and decided against doing so. They must learn to live with that decision rather than attempt to turn the clock back.

Vic Lennard, New Southgate, London.

OXBRIDGE ENTRANCE ...

I met my husband when we were at Oxford in the 1950s. We were both from state schools, as were many of our contemporaries, and, after graduating, we taught modern languages in independent schools for some years. Then, from choice, we transferred to the maintained sector, because we felt we had benefited so much from the system.

After comprehensive schools became the norm, an inverted snobbery began to manifest itself, and sixth-form pupils had to be encouraged to consider applying to Oxbridge, because the prevailing ethos, cultivated by many of our colleagues, was not sympathetic to that course of action. It is also evident that in recent years the number of Oxbridge graduates entering the teaching profession has greatly diminished.

The rocket recommended by John Izbicki (Education+, 13 November) should be aimed not at the "dreaming spires" but at the schools where staff and management have lost the vision of their predecessors whose enthusiasm was so infectious.

Sylvia Rudd, Redhill, Nottingham.

I couldn't help but notice that both York and the LSE are above Oxford in the latest teaching quality assessment "league table". Surely this means that we too qualify for a "college" fee?

Dr Philip Quinlan, Department of Psychology, University of York.

MODERN UNIVERSITIES

I do not know whether it affects his argument but Peter Scott (View From Here, Education+, 13 November) got his history of the binary system somewhat awry. The binary system was established well before the mid-1960s with the setting up of the Council for National Academic Awards. The Robbins committee recommended that the dozen pre-eminent polytechnics at the time should be translated into universities - thus there came into existence the universities of Surrey, Brunel and Salford to mention three. Robbins went on to recommend that the remaining members of the then local authority half of the binary system should be kept under continual review and assimilated to the university grant list as each was deemed to have built up to university level. This recommendation was ignored through inertia, I fancy, rather than for reasoned arguments. Had it been adopted, the perceived situation of first and second eleven universities arising from the one fell swoop procedure adopted in 1992 which, I quite agree with Peter Scott, was regrettable, would have been avoided.

N.P. Thomas, Ipswich, Suffolk.

teachers' limitS

Judith Judd ("Teachers don't need three As", Education+, 6 November) adopts a view of the teacher's task which is depressingly reductionist and instrumental. After more than 30 years in secondary education in a variety of senior management posts I have no doubt whatsoever that a major failing of the system has been the generally poor level to which most school teachers have been educated.

School teachers are idealistic, conscientious to a fault, extremely hardworking and honourable people. Sadly, these outstanding moral qualities are not matched by high levels of knowledge, understanding and, above all, the ability to think critically. It has been the basic lack of critical intelligence in the profession which has made it so vulnerable to authoritarian interference, from the imposition of unworkable methods by "advisers" in the 1970s to the current insistence on wasting reams of paper and hours of teachers' time on absurd "documentation".

The reason for insisting on a better level of qualification for entry into the teaching profession is not so that teachers will have greater depth of subject knowledge (A-level hardly guarantees that in any case!) but so that we can have a more intelligent and better-educated profession that can think for itself. Such a profession will not look to headteachers as parent figures and will not be scared witless by intellectually bankrupt organisations, such as Ofsted.

Michael Pyke, Staffs.

Please send your letters to Wendy Berliner, Editor EDUCATION+, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL. Include a daytime telephone number. Fax letters to Education+ on 0171 293 2451; e-mail:educ@independent.co.uk

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