The Labour party's proposed policy of long-term repayment of student maintenance costs is a realistic approach to a problem that is exacerbating the gap between those who (or whose parents) can and those who cannot afford higher education. However, there are variations on this theme that should also be considered.
My three suggested additions to the basic scheme, although introducing a degree more complexity, are sensitive to the fact that higher levels of education and training are as much for the benefit of the nation as for the individual.
First, a rebate system could apply if a student passes the course with flying colours. Perhaps a 25 per cent rebate could apply for those gaining first-class honours from a degree course.
Second, a further rebate could apply where areas of study are considered important to the economic prosperity of the nation. If a student with a first-class honours degree gained a further 25 per cent rebate because the degree was in engineering, making 50 per cent in total, might this encourage more entrants to these courses?
Third, given the need to continue learning through adult working life, such a scheme should not be confined to young first degree or Higher National Diploma students. It should also be accessible to anyone embarking on a course of further or higher education or training that has a demonstrable link between the nature of the course and the individual's career aspirations (to apply it to any course of learning would be admirable, but far less affordable).
These ideas are not entirely my own, but influenced by my daughter, who is 17 and not sure whether to apply for university or not. As a parent already fully supporting one child through university and with two more quite likely to follow, I warm to the idea of a long-term loan. My daughter is less enthusiastic but says that the prospects of reward for greater efforts would definitely motivate her.
PATRICK COSGROVE 121 Victoria Avenue Worcester