The debate around student fees, student debt and University funding seems to rumble on and on with no side really putting forward a solution that works for both sides. The reason for this I believe is that the best solution is to have less Universities offering less degrees but with a much wider 'College' system offering a lower but more practical level of education. This however would still require funding, so here is my funding solution, primarily for Welsh Universities and students as we have more control the funding and provision of education compared to the rest of the UK.
The first thing I would change would be for all students to be liable to pay fee's, regardless of your background. However, these would not be paid up front - they would be charged according to earning after completion of the degree. This would remove the need for a loan system to cover fee's and any loan would be for living expenses etc.
Each degree course would receive subsidies depending on the need of graduates at the time. So for example, if the economy required more lawyers (a frightening thought !) then the law courses would receive a subsidy until there 'Gap' was filled.
If then, 12 & 24 months after you finish your degree you are in full time employment - regardless of the occupation, you do not need to repay your fees - they are deferred. If you are not in full time employment then you will be required to start paying back your fees. Loans could be offered by Universities or by banks to cover this if needed. The point is not to punish people who are not in work, but to say to them - your degree is a valuable asset - you need to use it.
This is the point where being in Wales also plays a part. It is where you choose to earn your wage after you graduate that is important- not where you were born. So I would suggest that we should encourage graduates to stay in Wales by only deferring if you are still living and working in Wales. This would encourage Welsh graduates to stay in Wales and those who study in our Universities to make their new life in Wales as well. If you choose to move out of Wales then your course fees are payable at the end of the following month.
It is only 3 years after the end of your course that you will be required to pay fees and there would be a further requirement. At 3 years you can defer for a further two years provided you are in a job that is related to your degree. The point of this is to focus the mind at the outset and to reduce the amount of degrees offered in irrelevant subjects. It might upset a few people but there is no point studying the history of the French revolution when there is no paying job which requires it (other than to be a lecturer in the French revolution). If you do not have a related job then you will need to repay your fees - again if you are in a full time permanent position within Wales, then you have a 12 month repayment plan, other than that, you repay at the end of the following month.
For those who are struggling, they have the option of starting their own business.
By five years after finishing your degree, you should be earning enough to repay your fees. It is in the interest of the University to make sure that they train people well and for the needs of the economy. This encourages people with relevant skills into the economy and gives an incentive for them to stay in the economy. We could even look at giving extra incentives if they choose to locate in areas of particular need - e.g. Dentists into an area that has none.
The final discount I would offer for graduates, is that if they enter University with a job offer and a sponsorship from an employer, there would be a discount on the fees related to how needed that graduate is.
So what is in it for the Universities?
Provided they recruit 50 or 60% or whatever is a fair level of students from Wales, they are free to charge what they want. In order to do this they may need to offer incentives to Welsh students to attend that University. I would suggest that they also need
to ensure that provisions are made by the University to ensure that no one with acceptable grades is deterred from attending that University.
I would also incentivize those Universities by paying half of the fees up front from public funds provided that target levels of graduates stay in Wales after they graduate.
I would also give tax incentives for companies who form partnerships with Universities to conduct research and to put graduates through, in order that we produce the right graduates from the best Universities that suit Wales.
It may seem a little vague and complicated but it is only by thinking differently that Wales will start to catch and then overtake her competitors.