Karl: Standing up for students

Karl’s a working class graduate, burndened with debt. He sees working class pupils every day where he teaches entering a sector increasingly commercialised, and rarely in their interests. If he was Labour MP for Gorton, he’d a friend to and voice for students & higher education unions to fix our unfair system.

As a graduate, I have student debt of over £36,000. I have accrued that debt by studying languages, doing a teacher training course and becoming a teacher in a state school. My studies have served me well, I have a decent job and I live comfortably. They have also served the country well, producing a public servant contributing to our society.

Similarly with doctors, lawyers, artists, designers, scientists and the myriad other highly trained people who enter the workforce each year from our great universities. There are clear injustices in the funding system for universities, though. Injustices I would fight to correct if I was the MP for Gorton.

It is not right that the highest earning graduates pay off their student debts faster than everyone else. Because graduates pay 9% on everything about £21,000 until their loan is paid off, those that earn the most immediately after graduation accrue the least interest. Those who go into, say, banking pay less towards their studies than a doctor who pays of their loan later.

Some students will never pay off their debts because they will never earn enough, effectively paying a 9% graduate tax for the 25 years after they leave university. It is dishonest to tell people we do not agree with the idea of a graduate tax, and then effectively impose one on those with the least ability to pay it.

It is also unjust that only students pay for the university education they receive. Does a doctor or teacher’s education not benefit society more generally? Does the cultural output of a fashion designer not benefit the UK’s soft power overseas? Do the medical discoveries of a scientist not benefit all in a country? Does an engineer’s road or tail project not increase the profits of a business owner?

If the country wants a highly skilled economy, we as a nation must pay for it through general taxation. Those at the bottom of the income scale, whether graduates or not, will not pay for the education they did or did not receive. Those at the top will. Everyone pays for health care, state pensions and secondary education – services that benefit us all – through general taxation. Why are our universities any different? University funding is a fudge, because nobody was bold enough to call for proper money for a good university system.

We do need to pay more to fund our universities properly. But ordinary graduates could all pay less if those on higher incomes continue to pay long after they have paid of their debt. After all, they do not suddenly cease to benefit from their education once the debt has been paid off. Similarly, the business owner who did not go to university but makes good money has benefitted from the medical care and infrastructure in place due to others’ university education. He or she should also pay towards that education.

I will be a voice for students in Gorton, because I know how it feels to have an extra 9% added to the tax rate I am paying. I also know it will be unjust that, if I become an MP, I will pay off my debts more quickly than someone on a lower income. I know that the whole country benefits from a skilled, educated work force, so the country’s tax system should raise the money to pay for it.

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