Tuesday, February 03, 2015

UK: Tripling tuition fees has doubled student debt... but will still cost taxpayers more because half the loans will NEVER be repaid

The Government’s decision to triple tuition fees will end up costing students and taxpayers more money – because half the loans will never be repaid, new figures have revealed.

Ministers increased the cap on student fees from £3,000 to £9,000 a year to fill the hole in university funding left by government cuts to the higher education budget.

But, because student debts are written off after 30 years, 49.5 per cent will never be recouped, meaning the scheme will cost the government £2.5billion a year more than ministers claimed, House of Commons library figures show.

At the same time average graduate debts have doubled from £20,000 in 2010 to £43,500.

It comes after Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, revealed Labour would introduce a 'graduate tax' on the earnings of those who go to university to replace tuition fees.

Mr Umunna said the system would be 'fairer' than tuition fees and would be introduced 'in the medium term' if Labour returns to power.

The National Union of Students proposed an extra tax of between 0.3 per cent and 2.5 per cent of their income above £15,000, for a period of 20 years, with the highest earners paying higher rates.

Labour is struggling to work out how to pay for a pledge it has already made to slash university tuition fees from the current maximum of £9,000 a year to £6,000.

In 2011, it announced the policy as it sought to win over disaffected former Liberal Democrat voters angered by Nick Clegg reneging on a pledge to scrap fees and signing up to Coalition plans to allow institutions to charge up to £9,000 a year – triple the amount students paid previously.

The £6,000 cap is expected to be included in Labour's general election manifesto, but it is not clear how the party intends to meet such an expensive commitment.

Previously, Labour has suggested that it might pay for the cut with a corporation tax increase on banks or with higher rates of interest for better-off students.

The party may also be forced to restrict the cut in fees to certain types of courses such as technical degrees, leaving other students to keep on paying the current cost.

Mr Umunna, who is responsible for higher education policy, said introducing a full-scale graduate tax 'as soon as possible is my priority'.

Ed Miliband’s campaign chief Lucy Powell attacked the decision to increase tuition fees.

She said: "Ed has long said that he thinks that the current system [of tuition fees] needs to change and a report out this morning, figures we’ve gained from the House of Commons library this morning show that the new funding arrangement, the increased tuition fees to £9,000 a year is actually costing the taxpayer more because half of those loans that people are having to take out won’t be repaid.

‘So we’ve got young people leaving university with £30,000, £40,000 worth of debt. Nearly half of them won’t actually repay those loans so it’s costing the taxpayer more anyway.’

The decision to hike tuition fees is one of the most controversial decisions of the Coalition.  Nick Clegg, appearing on the comedy show The Last Leg on Friday admitted it had given him sleepless nights.  However he also continued to defend the decision, adding: 'I'm not Prime Minister so I can't do what I want.'

The Lib Dems have pointed to figures showing the gap between the number of rich and poor students wanting to go on to higher education had fallen since 2010.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has described the new system as 'better, affordable and fair'.  He said: 'We have paid a price for this policy more than any other party. But the success of these reforms, with more students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying to university than ever before, shows it was a price worth paying.

'Regardless of family circumstances, all students can now obtain university level education as long as they meet academic requirements. This is a good legacy.'

The figures, from university admissions service Ucas, show 21 per cent of 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds in England applied this year.

Overall, the richest 18-year-olds in the UK are 2.4 times more likely to want to go to university than the poorest. But in 2006, when Labour was in power, the wealthiest were 3.7 times more likely to want to apply.


How stupid can school authorities get?

An elementary school suspended a boy who arrived at school last week with what he alleged was a powerful ring that appears in J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings' fantasy books.

Aiden Steward was suspended from Kermit Elementary School in Kermit, Texas, over a Thursday incident, The New York Daily News reported.

While speaking to another boy, 9-year-old Steward said he would able to use the One Ring and turn the fellow student invisible, according to the newspaper.

Speaking to The New York Daily News, father Jason Steward said 'It sounded unbelievable.'

The One Ring, as it is known, features in both Tolkien's prequel 'The Hobbit' as well as 'The Lord of the Rings.' At various points in the books, characters Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggins put on the ring to make it seem as if they have vanished into thin air.

Steward told The New York Daily News 'Kids act out movies that they see. When I watched Superman as a kid, I went outside and tried to fly.'

The newspaper reported that the Steward family recently viewed 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.' Peter Jackson directed film adaptations for both 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit.'

Jason Steward told the newspaper 'I assure you my son lacks the magical powers necessary to threaten his friend’s existence. If he did, I'm sure he'd bring him right back.'

Speaking to The Odessa American, he said the school considered his son's behavior to be a threat.

Principal Roxanne Greer did not comment to the website, and said 'All student stuff is confidential.'

The website reported 'The 9-year-old has been in in-school suspension for referring to another student’s skin color and got in trouble for bringing a kids’ book about pregnancy to school.'


An education theorist goes practical

 Education commentator Jennifer Buckingham is no ivory tower researcher. For five years, she’s worked closely with a school in Raymond Terrace, a low-income town near Newcastle NSW, in an effort to improve its students’ results.

Jennifer Buckingham is a prominent advocate of school choice. She’s middle class and strongly believes parents should be able to choose where they send their children to school. So which primary school did she choose for her two daughters?

Raymond Terrace Public School, located in the low-income town of the same name, just north of Newcastle in NSW. More than half its students are from the bottom quartile of socio-economic rankings and about a fifth are indigenous, both indicators that are statistically linked to lower academic outcomes.

Buckingham says that when her eldest daughter, who has just graduated from year six, started at Raymond Terrace in kindergarten it was perceived by many in the town "as a school people wouldn’t deliberately send their children to".

What makes her choice of school all the more interesting is that Buckingham is an education policy specialist and research fellow at a right-wing think tank, the Centre of Independent Studies (CIS).

From her perch at the CIS, Buckingham is a strong advocate of private schools and their role in providing wider choice to parents. Yet she chose a struggling public primary school for her daughters. Why? "I could see the potential at Raymond Terrace Public School, and thought that I had something to contribute,"she says.

Buckingham and her husband, Scott Chapman, both grew up in Raymond Terrace, which sits on the banks of the Hunter River half an hour north of Newcastle, and it’s where they now live. Chapman actually attended Raymond Terrace Public School, but both the school and the town were then quite di fferent. In the years since, there’s been an infl ux of public housing and the level of wealth has fallen.

"None of my old friends sent their children there," Buckingham says. For the first year or two after her eldest daughter started kindergarten in 2008, she didn’t dare reveal to school principal John Picton that she worked as a think tank expert in education policy. "Working with the CIS, you don’t necessarily know how sympathetic a school principal is going to be," says Buckingham now.

For his part, Picton says he had no idea that one of his school mothers was a well-known education policy specialist and was shocked when he found out. He knew Jennifer, at that time, not as Buckingham but by her married name. "At kindy orientation, I wasn’t introduced to this educational researcher," Picton says.


But along with the right to choose, another part of Buckingham’s education credo is that parents should be able to be in fluential in their children’s schools – and that is exactly what she has done. With Picton at the helm, and plenty of input from Buckingham, Raymond Terrace has seen a remarkable lift in performance.

In 2008, Raymond Terrace’s Naplan results were level-pegging with similar schools in the area. The latest available 2013 fi gures show it is signi ficantly ahead of its peers. It is also well ahead of the three other primary schools in the town – two public, one Catholic.

At a time when Australia’s schools are seen to be failing – with literacy and numeracy standards falling against comparable countries, and a sharp ideological divide over the Gonski funding scheme and the national curriculum – Raymond Terrace stands out as an example of what can be achieved in an individual school by a committed principal who has solid support.

The Raymond Terrace story is also notable on another level. Buckingham is an education commentator who walked the talk and enrolled her own children in a failing school she intended to help improve. What were the secrets to lifting the school’s performance?

For Picton, the discovery that he had a school parent who was not only a respected education researcher but also wanted to be more involved with the school came at the right time. He had spent most of his teaching career in low-socio-economic-status schools, and when he arrived at Raymond Terrace nine years ago there were many problems. "The place didn’t have good results and the staff were negative about what the expectations could be of the kids," Picton says. "That was the pedagogy that they were introduced to and were using."

Once he knew Buckingham’s background, the pair started talking about how to improve things. "I realised that John was interested in what I had to say and vice-versa," she says. "My getting involved in the school didn’t necessarily send it on a di fferent path. It was already on that path. All I was able to do was, with my contacts and connections, provide some extra support and external guidance than might have been available otherwise."

One key development was a visit from noted educational reformer John Fleming in 2010. Fleming’s 10 years in charge of Bell eld Primary School in Melbourne is one of the celebrated success stories of turning around a failing school, and last year Fleming was appointed by federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne to be deputy chair of the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership.

Fleming came to Raymond Terrace to o ffer his advice. It was a turning point in Picton’s willingness to engage with Buckingham. "Had John Fleming been a waste of time, I probably wouldn’t be here talking to Jennifer today,"says Picton. It led to three "pillars" – principles set then which the school still operates by.

One is explicit teaching, where the key skills of reading, writing and maths are taught explicitly and directly to students and then practised repeatedly until testing shows they have got it. This is in contrast to still-popular education theories in which children are expected to master these fundamental building blocks of knowledge by exploring for themselves.

Another is building a relationship with the children, and expecting teachers to get to know each child well and understand what they are capable of, with the aim of boosting self-esteem.

Last, there is creating high expectations, in which children and parents are encouraged to aim for the best.


Buckingham was also instrumental in bringing to the school an early-intervention reading program for children whose literacy was lagging. She had heard of the work that Macquarie University’s Kevin Wheldall and Robyn Beaman had done in developing a phonics-based instruction in which children systematically learn the sounds for each letter and how to join the sounds into words. They turned their work into two programs for schools to help struggling readers – MultiLit and MiniLit.

When Buckingham discovered that Wheldall was looking to do research in a school, she seized the opportunity. "I thought, that’s a way of tapping into this program which has been getting such great results," she says. The result was that MultiLit, MiniLit and a bevy of researchers came to Raymond Terrace to work with the children who were falling behind.

Buckingham joined in, deciding to do a PhD on literacy and social disadvantage with Macquarie University, drawing her research data from the school. She completed the doctorate last year.

At this point, there was another positive development for the school – more money. Five years ago, it was given $400,000 extra annual funding for four years under the federal government’s then national partnerships program. Picton says when he heard the news, he went straight to Buckingham and said: "We’ve got $400,000. What would you do with it?"

Drawing on Buckingham’s advice, Picton decided to spend half the money on a mentoring scheme. He employed two new teachers so that two of the school’s experienced teachers could become full-time mentors. It was a risk, says Picton. "We thought that sta ff might have been quite reluctant to open themselves up to observation and demonstration of lessons. But because of the credibility of these particular teachers, it was taken on board early," he says.

The intense mentoring of teachers was the key to embedding Picton’s "three pillars" across the school. When a child moves up a year, they are taught in the same way using the same terminology. "You can go into your next class and roll on with it using the same language,"says Picton.

Based on his experience, Picton fi rmly believes that low-income children are not condemned to perform poorly at school. It’s all about expectations, he says. "If you set high expectations, if you build relationships with your kids, if you trust in their ability to be able to learn, you will get the results from them. There’s no reason why they can’t."

"If you listen and observe the dialogue and interaction of the kids in our school compared to five years ago, it’s amazing," Picton says.

Naplan scores bear this out. In 2008, Raymond Terrace was in the middle of the pack of schools from similar socio-economic areas for numeracy, reading, writing, spelling and grammar plus punctuation.

In 2013, Raymond Terrace is either at the top or close to it for all five skills in both years three and five. Nationwide, more and more students are being withheld from Naplan, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that some schools keep poorly performing students out of the tests in order to improve their results. But that’s not how it is at Raymond Terrace. "Every child is encouraged to participate,"says Buckingham. "It’s a really big thing not to game the scores. It’s important for every child who can do the test to do the test."

That includes children in the school’s classes that cater to special needs – Down syndrome, autism and hearing problems."It does have an in fluence on our scores,"says Picton. But he says Naplan is an important diagnostic instrument. It tells teachers how students are performing and whether they need special attention.


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