Through a mutual acquaintance, I recently heard someone I know outside the world of politics (yes I have ordinary friends!) had been bemoaning the "fact" that he was not going to be able to afford to pay £9,000 per year for his daughter (who is soon going to be 18) to go to university.
Wednesday, 24 August 2011
This person is pretty well educated and I suspect does regularly watch the news but the fact that the money is paid back over 30 years following graduation by the recipient of the degree, not the parents of the recipient seems to have completely passed him by. He's not the only one from what I can tell. Various vox pops on radio and TV in recent months that I have heard and seen suggest that this misconception is pretty widespread and infuriatingly often not corrected by interviewers or presenters.
That such a basic aspect of the new system is so widely misunderstood is a pretty damning indictment of how the policy has been communicated. Lib Dem and Conservative ministers and MPs need to accept some blame for this. But another big problem as far as I can tell is that the media narrative has focused on the most negative and politically contentious aspects of the scheme. This has led to headlines such as "UNIVERSITY FEES TREBLED" and "LIB DEMS IN DISARRAY OVER FEES". Both of those things were true to an extent but the Lib Dem woes on this topic were focused on so much around the time of the parliamentary vote as well as the protests that I honestly think the substance of the policy was not properly covered. Which given how much airtime the subject was supposedly given is frankly absurd.
For me, the 2 main aspects of the new system that seem to be regularly misunderstood are:
1) It will cost parents £30K+ up front to send their kids to university. This is palpably untrue. The graduate, not the parents pays the loan back at 9% of income above £21K. And they don't pay anything back after 30 years regardless of how much they have paid to that point. So quite a few, probably most will never pay back the entire loan anyway.
2) Graduates will be worse off under the new scheme just when they need disposable income the most, in their 20s making it harder to get a mortgage. This is completely wrong too. Compared to the previous system, graduates will be much better off in their earlier years when trying to build a deposit for a house etc. It is of course true that they will still be paying through their 30s and 40s too (assuming they earn over £21K) but that's the trade-off.
There are loads more (see FOOTNOTE) but they are the two that have most irritated me.
I suspect there will be some who accuse me of being a government patsy on this as I am a Lib Dem but the truth is I would be saying this no matter who was in government. I am always happy to debate the consequences and fairness of policies with anyone but in order to do this properly, the facts need to be clear.
And far too often in this debate they are inadvertently or in some cases I suspect deliberately distorted.
FOOTNOTE: The widely respected Martin Lewis of the Money Saving Expert website who himself is no fan of the changes is nevertheless appalled at the terrible reporting on the subject (I heard him bemoaning it on Jeremy Vine's Radio 2 show recently) and has taken it upon himself to produce a "20 Key Facts" page which goes into great detail and busts a number of myths about the new system. It's definitely worth a read if you have half an hour.
This post was first published on Dale & Co.