According to new figures published this week by the Office for National Statistics, graduates earn 85 per cent more than people with only GCSE qualifications over their working lives. Extrapolated over a 40-year career lifetime, graduates are likely to earn almost £1 million more than those on current average pay of some £25,000 pa.
The latest statistics show that the differential has fallen from 95 per cent in 1993, though the level of earnings has increased substantially over those 18 years. Their publication may reopen the debate on student fees – and incite some resentment among non-graduate taxpayers that they should have to subsidise people who are going to make a million more than them.
When looked at from that end of the telescope, it does not seem too onerous for graduates to have to repay some £30,000 or so when as a result of that investment they earn many multiples of that sum. They will still be some £970,000 better off (before tax) than non-graduates by the time they retire.
It may not do anything to stem justified cries of unfairness felt about the fact that those of my generation, and later ones, enjoyed much greater levels of public subsidy, including not just fees but generous grants for subsistence and fares as well. However, few of the tiny minority who went into higher education then measured studies in terms of shillings and pence.
My concern is less about the levels of loans being accumulated; what is spent on education should be seen more as a mortgage than a debt – an investment in their career. But I do believe repayment should be spread more equitably over the life of the career, with little or no interest charges.
Much of the passion about betrayal felt by current students will have dissipated by the time we reach the next election in 2015. Hopefully, they will be in jobs with good prospects and the loan will not appear the same threat to solvency it does now.
A new wave of undergraduates may still feel sore and anxious about the much higher sums they will have to repay, but not the same anger against those Liberal Democrat MPs and candidates unwise enough to sign the tuition fees pledge.
What is much more important in higher education is to deal with those Oxbridge (and other Russell Group) colleges who do not admit any – or disproportionately few – black students. And revolutionise admission practices so that those who take the vocational route have a statutory right to continue their studies to degree or (more correctly) Levels 4 or 5.