This coming Tuesday is a big day for Manx Democracy, a public petition is being read to the sitting of Tynwald for the first time in 50 years. It should be central to the debate on whether or not the Isle of Man should start charging Manx students tuition fees for attending university.
Unfortunately, in true Tynwald fashion, its placement at the end of the order paper means it might not contribute to the debate at all.
There has been considerable public outcry at the suggestion that the Isle of Man Government can no longer afford to pay tuition for Manx students attending university, especially so soon after the same government spent £12.2m of public money speculating on shares in Pinewood Shepperton.
The government claims by charging students £2,500 towards tuition fees it will save £4.4m a year, although i’m not quite sure how. The average student starting salary for 2012 was around £26,000 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16738765), under the governments plans students will repay 9% of their salary above £21,000, so they’ll be repaying £450 a year. Given that the department supports around 1,400 students (1,415 in 2011/2012), even if all of them were repaying the loans, that’s only £636,750 repaid each year. Somewhat short of the £4.4m they are predicting to save. If the savings aren’t coming from monies repaid, where are they coming from? I’m assuming the Island isn’t getting any special discounts from universities… Will they be saving because fewer students will be attending university? Or will these savings be made as instead of recording the £3.5m a year as “spent”, they can record it as “loans to students” (a purely accounting distinction with no actual money saved).
Also, it’ll take each one of these average student earners the best part of two decades to repay the loan, and at 5% interest they’ll be repaying double what they borrow. Do we really think that it’s fair to burden the next generation with large debts because of mistakes made by past governments?
Now, if this is really a last resort and all other options have been exhausted, I could support the principle of asking students to contribute a bit more towards their own tuition (on top of their living, accommodation, tuition in excess of £9k and other assorted costs of attending a university), but not like this. The scheme proposed by the government is ill-conceived, restrictive and hasn’t given enough notice. Whilst Tim Crookall is happy to say “We have no other choice”, he has singularly failed to explain why this is the case. What other options were investigated? Why was this path taken? Where will the savings come from?
This issue has to be about more than just straightened budgets and saving money. It’s about how we want the government to spend our money in the first place. It’s about how we want government to communicate to us how its spending our money and its about government listening when we believe they’ve made the wrong decision.
The petition to Tynwald exemplifies these needs, it shows that there is a real desire for public money to be spent on education and that there is a need for more open and transparent decision making. The petition is a direct statement to Tynwald, asking them to listen.
Lets see if they do.
If you want to show your support for the petition, and for Manx students, the debate is scheduled to take place on the 15th January, get in touch with your MHK!