By Claire West

The UK200Group of independent accountancy and lawyer firms has commented on the news that tuition fees may be supplemented or replaced by a ‘graduate tax’ and other changes such as two-year degrees may also be introduced by the new government, according to business secretary Vince Cable.

Anthony Harris, Director and Insolvency Practitioner, Critchleys:
“The real issue is that there are too many ‘graduates’ with low quality degrees and perhaps not enough with decent ones. By transforming every polytechnic and college of further education into a ‘university’ the government has so seriously devalued the status of an English university degree that people are confused at best and perhaps even wholly sceptical as to what a graduate is!

“If the situation is changed so that ‘real’ degrees are again the norm; and other people receive something equivalent to an HND, then we will again have a genuine ‘graduate population’. It is only at that stage that one can start to consider the ‘graduate tax’ or some other form of funding for degree courses.

“All the current blather about ‘those with degrees earn a certain amount more over their lifetimes than those without is a nonsense. Those people who are, say, 40 years old plus have a higher quality of qualification than many who come out of our universities now.”

David Whiscombe, partner, BKLTax

“There is an over-supply of graduates reflected in rapidly increasing graduate unemployment and businesses (particularly small and medium-sized firms) simply do not need as many graduates as the tertiary education system is producing.

“A survey by the Centre for Enterprise earlier this year showed that nearly 90 per cent of SMEs will not be recruiting graduates during the recession and even more had not recruited a recent graduate within the previous twelve months. Bear in mind that SMEs account for 60 per cent of private sector employment and you can see the significance of these figures.

“The truth is that the tertiary education sector in this country depends for its success on what amounts to a pyramid selling scheme under which prospective undergraduates are cynically sold a dream which many will not achieve. The sooner we return to a sustainable level of graduate education the better.”

Jonathan Russell, partner, ReesRussell and vice-president UK200Group:

“This really is a nonsense but is something which the LibDems have long promoted. The concept was always that people who had a degree would be able to get a job paying more money than a non-graduate and hence could afford to pay more tax! If they earn more money they pay more tax anyway so this is really a double whammy.”

Michael Watts, partner, Haslers:

“My view is that this is a backward step — a graduate tax may start forcing graduates to go overseas to study and then they may not come back. In addition this country needs highly-educated individuals for the future as we are primarily a service-led country and this will certainly discourage that.

“I also guess that the majority of those that go to university become higher-rate tax payers in any event, so they are already making a valid contribution to society.”

David Ingall, partner, JWPCreers:

“Considering is one thing but the form and the detail is what would be important. Perhaps two year degree courses would be helpful to undergraduates but would require a better work ethic. How universities would cope with different lengths of courses is a puzzle.”