Leading article: It is right that business should pay a greater share

Companies are one of the main beneficiaries of an expanded university educated workforce

Related Topics

Prospective students have not had much good news of late. But the announcement that the accountancy firm KPMG plans to sponsor students throughout university deserves a cheer.

Yesterday KPMG announced a scheme that will pay the tuition fees of 75 promising A-level students and give them a salary of £20,000 over a further two years of professional training after graduation. The company intends to expand the scheme when tuition fees triple from 2012.

There is much to welcome here. Business is one of the main beneficiaries of an expanded university-educated workforce. It should be footing a greater proportion of the costs. Taxpayers have long made a hefty contribution to meeting higher education costs. So will students from 2012. It is right that the spotlight should now fall on business.

KPMG also sees the scheme as a way of ensuring that it continues to employ a socially diverse workforce. The firm's head of audit, Oliver Tant, argues that "social immobility" in Britain has become a source of economic inefficiency, and one that threatens to cede an advantage to the more meritocratic China and India in the globalised economy. The scheme will therefore be heavily advertised in state schools that have an intake of children from poorer homes.

Mr Tant also hopes to establish "a new trend of the private sector helping to meet the costs of tertiary education", implying that other large firms will follow KPMG's lead. We must hope so, because there are considerable social benefits to be reaped from an expansion of such scholarship schemes.

One of the great fears about the impact of higher fees is that they will deter students from less advantaged backgrounds from applying to university, even though fees are not repayable until, and if, a graduate goes on to earn above £21,000 a year. The existence of sponsorship schemes such as this will help to reassure talented prospective students that university will be a sound financial investment in their future. Some firms already sponsor students. But these typically only cover the final year of university. To maximise the incentive, such schemes should begin while students are still in school.

There are some caveats. It is possible to imagine poorer students being lured into signing up to an accountancy career, or some other profession, when they are not sure about what they want to do with their lives and later regretting it. A student's ambition when they are 17 is often very different by the time they are 21. Similarly, no one wants to see poorer students corralled into sponsored professional courses, while the humanities become the exclusive preserve of middle-class students.

Alternatively, things could swing the other way. There is a potential danger that scholarships could be dominated by students from wealthy backgrounds. Mr Tant might see the scheme as a way of bringing out the talents of children from poorer homes, but KPMG is not guaranteeing a bias to those from low-income families when it comes to the selection of trainees. Yet there should be ways of guarding against such outcomes, such as ensuring that student contracts are not binding and encouraging universities to provide humanities scholarships to counteract the pull of the business variety.

Like higher tuition fees, this will be something of an experiment. But if implemented properly and with the correct safeguards, the benefits should significantly outweigh any disadvantages. The Coalition, widely reviled for tripling fees, can do itself a big favour now by putting pressure on other large firms to follow KPMG's forward-thinking example.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next

In Sickness and in Health: A night out to show I’m still Rebecca as well as a carer

Rebecca Armstrong
Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman leaving The High Court  

Lutfur Rahman has devalued the struggle for racial justice and equality, and I hate him for it

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions