Watering down higher education?
In the face of serious funding cuts for higher education across these islands, one rather unusual idea has come from the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ulster, Professor Richard Barnett. According to a report in the Irish Independent, Professor Barnett has suggested that the Northern Ireland government should levy water charges on high earners in order to fund universities.
I cannot help feeling that this is a somewhat odd idea. Professor Barnett is strongly against tuition fees and believes higher education should be free at the point of use. He is opposed to funding universities through fees paid by high earners. He does not however appear to be opposed to high earners funding higher education by paying more for water. In fairness to him, I suspect he has advocated this approach because water charges are under the control of the Northern Ireland administration, whereas other fiscal measures would not be. But it is still hard to see how this proposal is different in principle from the idea that tuition fees should be paid by those who can afford them. And I cannot wholly get my head around the idea that I should want people to leave their taps on so as to help the higher education funding crisis.
In the end this is not a workable solution, as income from water charges could not possibly be ringfenced for universities. But his intervention reinforces the need to address the income shortfall affecting higher education as a matter of great urgency.