Paying for university education

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I am speaking at a meeting tonight in the House of Commons organised by the University and Colleges Union. As has been reported this morning:

Lecturers' union UCU will call on the government to abolish all university tuition fees - and force big business to pick up the tab. The demand is made in a new report highlighting Britain's status as one of the cheapest countries for firms to do business.

Currently British businesses only pay 28 per cent combined corporate income tax rate, the lowest rate in the G7 with the exception of Italy. UCU is demanding that tax be raised to the G7 average of 32.87 per cent, with the billions this would raise each year ploughed into education.

It says its proposals for a business education tax are the "first coherent attempt at making business pay its way for the numerous benefits it gets from UK higher education," after years of neglect and underinvestment. Research by the union and left Labour pressure group Compass has revealed that higher education contributes £59 billion to the economy every year. Graduates are also more likely to cost less to the economy through more secure employment and be healthier, more active individuals, the union states.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt pointed out that the proposed increase in corporation tax would still be lower than when the Tories were last in power.

"Our proposals are based on fairness," she said. "The future for the UK is as a high-skilled knowledge economy and that requires business to pay its fair share towards something which benefits us all," she said.

"We believe our proposals will be welcomed by hard-working families who want their children to benefit from education but are put off by the potential debts created by university fees."

The report comes as the government draws up plans for £900 million worth of cuts in higher education over the next three years.

NUS president Wes Streeting welcomed the report as a "contribution to the debate.This report shows that there is a fair way to generate more funding for higher education through increasing the contribution of large corporations without affecting small businesses."

And Tax Research UK director Richard Murphy said: "This tax pays for the investment we need if the future of British business is to be secured."

I’m not heavily in favour of hypothecated tax. What I do know is that business is under taxed right now, most people are over taxed, and we need spending, not cuts.

If the big business of this country cannot afford to train the workforce they need we have something very wrong with our priorities. And this is just the first of many such issues that will crowd in upon us as the right demand more and more cuts, and people will resist in ever greater numbers when it is glaringly obvious that we have the capacity to train people – just a lack of willing to demand the cash to do so from those who seek to retain it for the sole reason of increasing the gap between them and the rest of society.

And to those tempted to post on this bout tax incidence, please note that post is not open to those comments.