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Foolish views on education finance are stuck in 1848
Financial Times FT.com

Published: May 8 2009 03:00 | Last updated: May 8 2009

From Mr Tim Curtin.

Sir, I was surprised by your editorial "Caps and gowns" (May 1), with its reversion to pre-1848 views on educational finance. John Stuart Mill was the first to see the social value of an educated population, in his textbook of 1848. Then, when not even 10 per cent of English children received any schooling, let alone access to higher education, he called for state-financed schooling, on the basis of the social benefits that would accrue to the nation,20 if its government could grasp this.

Most of the world has moved on but not the FT, with its insistence that tertiary education must be self-funded. Offering government loans with or without subsidised interest rates does not mean that fees for tertiary education under your plan cease to be self-funded, and thereby, if price has any impact on demand, result in lower output of graduates than otherwise.

It is therefore a foolish government (and FT) that cannot grasp that if, as is undeniable, tertiary graduates as a whole earn far more over their lifetimes than those without degrees or equivalent, then ineluctably it also follows that they also pay more tax (of all kinds, income tax, national insurance, VAT) from their higher income than that of their less well-educated peers.

I am far from being alone in showing that the extra taxes paid by graduates over their lifetimes vis C3A0 vis the taxes paid by non-graduates far exceed the paltry per-student sums ever expended by any British government on those graduates.

Truly, it is only ignorant governments and newspapers that justify restricting access to higher education by imposing fees with or without loans.

Mill would excoriate you as much as he did those, when he was in parliament in the 1860s, who opposed the introduction of free state schooling.

Tim Curtin,

Spence, ACT, Australia


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