Issue date: 11 December 2003

ISSUE DATE: 11/12/03
Embargo 12 midnight Thursday 11 December

Alfred Morris, the Vice Chancellor of the University of the West of England, one of the UK’s leading new universities, has written to the Prime Minister proposing an alternative which might reconcile him with back bench critics of existing proposals.

The alternative proposal, a Graduate Covenant Scheme: allows students to sidestep variable fees; eases the financial burden facing graduates in the early stage of their careers; and enables the government to increase support for student maintenance and the widening participation agenda.

The letter welcomes Tony Blair’s determination to assist the introduction of variable tuition fees, but identifies several weaknesses in existing proposals:

• they do not offer a UK wide solution
• they will re-introduce a ‘binary’ divide between institutions
• they undermine efforts to widen participation
• they will not yield sufficient income to avoid a financial crisis
• they encourage a culture of dependence on the state
• they further erode university autonomy

To overcome those weaknesses, UWE proposes a Graduate Covenant Scheme which has much in common with the graduate tax preferred by most back bench critics.

Essentially, the UWE Graduate Covenant Scheme

• modifies the concept of a graduate tax
• reduces both public expenditure and net public borrowing
• replaces the high level of shorter term debt repayment at present envisaged (9%) by a lower rate of longer term covenant payment (3% for a 3 year course)
• avoids the use of loans, and thereby addresses the issue of debt aversion
• guarantees less established universities a minimum covenant income of £2,500 per annum for each student
• allows the most prestigious universities to charge a hefty premium for their ‘brands’, but paid for by long term investors
• would allow government to redirect public expenditure towards the improvement of maintenance support for students

Further details of the UWE Graduate Covenant Scheme can be found on


Editor’s notes

• The Vice Chancellor’s letter to the Prime Minister and UWE’s proposals are available from the Press Office.
• Alfred Morris CBE DL, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West of England, is also a practising chartered accountant and Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society.
He served until recently as a non-executive director of a major UK bank.
• The University of the West of England was recently described by the Sunday Times as being in the vanguard of new universities. It has a consistently excellent teaching record with every subject assessed by the Quality Assurance Agency since 1995 gaining over 20 out of 24 points. UWE has increased its ‘research power’ (a measure of quality and quantity of research) by over 70% since the 1996 Research Assessment Exercise. It has some 25,000 students making it one of the largest universities in the country.

Contact details (out of hours) Keith Hicks 07799 392149

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