Higher education funding

On Tuesday Lord Browne published a report into the future of higher education and student funding in England.

He was asked to do so by the last Labour Government who understood that with a huge financial black hole the current system was no longer fit for purpose.

The review was set up on a cross-party basis and I hope that the new Labour leadership will work with the Coalition Government to find genuine solutions to this problem.

Browne has concluded that the system needs urgent reform.  The key question is how.

But I know that this is an issue that concerns a lot of my constituents.  I've received letters from parents - and grandparents - who worry about the debt that their children will take with them when they leave university.  I understand their concerns.

The key point to make is that tuition fees will not be paid back until after the student has graduated.  They won't be paid by hardworking parents, many of whom are already supporting their children financially.

We should also remember that some graduates will earn £100,000 more over their working lives than those who do not go to university.  But it's certainly not true of every student.

So it's crucial that the arrangements take into account the graduate's ability to pay.

Browne proposes that we raise the threshold at which graduates will start to pay back their tuition fees from £15,000 to £21,000.

The key thing for me is that students from the poorest families should not be put off from going to university.

Do we have any alternative?  Labour has talked about a graduate tax.  It's a policy supported by the new Labour leader Ed Miliband, but not apparently by his new Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson.

But as Business Secretary Vince Cable said in the House on Tuesday, it would be unfair and would not help to deal with the huge deficit that we've inherited from Labour.

What we need now is a progressive system of graduate contributions that puts our universities on a firm footing and gives our children the great education they deserve.

Christopher N Howarth