Friday, 28 September 2012

The curious case of Craig Evans

So, you're feeling amorous and decide to send a text to a current love interest of a sexual nature... all good? Except if you're Craig Evans who appears (as far as reports allow us to see) to have been a bit too hasty in his actions and accidentally sent his message to all of his contacts.

This may not normally be more than an utterly humiliating and embarrassing experience, with family members, friends and acquaintances alike all receiving the invitation for some...let's say... "happy times". Except as a swimming instructor he also happened to have the number of a couple of his students, aged around 13-14, who also received the message.

Cue a court case at Birmingham Crown Court, and a sequence of events that landed him with an 18 month jail sentence for, as far as we can so far tell, causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

It's bizarre.

First of all, there is the issue of bringing the case to court. The CPS has been notorious in the last 12 months for taking cases to court that simply aren't in the public interest, such as the ill-fated attempts to pin terrorism malicious communication charges on Paul Chambers.

The fall out from Chambers' case led to the Director of Public Prosecutions promising to be much fairer about how they approach charging these sorts of "crimes" in the future.

Of course the case of Craig Evans is one that started before this particular about-turn by the CPS.

The question starts though with the legal wording. Intent.

A person aged 18 or over (A) commits an offence if—

(a)he intentionally causes or incites another person (B) to engage in an activity,

At what point did the CPS decide this was intentional? There are (to my layperson mind) two situations here that are reasonable; the third being that this was a cunningly orchastrated plan to solicit sex from two underage girls while maintaining an air of innocence through the "ooops I didn't mean to do that, why would I send it to my mum" defence.

First, it wasn't intentional and, as the defence appears to have put it, the guy simply made a mistake in sending it to everyone on his phone instead of via text to the intended recipient.

Second, it was intentional as some kind of twisted prank but the intention itself was never to get anyone to engage in sexual activity.

In either case I'm not entirely sure how the charge of "causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity" can be applied. Maybe a proper lawyer can enlighten us, or someone that has transcripts of/attended the case...

There is, therefore, a definite whiff of something weird going on. It has to be expected that the defendant's team weren't denying that an "inciting" message had been sent, but that it wasn't intentional. I would also assume that the question asked of the Jury was whether they felt it was intentional or not.

The jury found him guilty, and the judge at Birmingham Crown Court gave him 18 months.

Now, however, he is out after an appeal, halving his sentence and suspending it.

But wait... the conviction wasn't overturned. He is still technically guilty of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, he will no doubt still be on the sex offenders register and scuppering any chance to carry on with his job as a swimming instructor that works with children.

The judge is reported, on reducing the sentence, to have said...

It is difficult to conclude that he was targeting anyone

So... it's not clear if he targeted anyone. This means that the only way the charge can stand is if he intended to target everyone, in the knowledge that two kids would be included, but not those children specifically.

Any other explanation (again, to layperson Lee here) means that there is an acceptance that intent is not possible to determine. If that's the case, isn't there a burden of proof that says "beyond all reasonable doubt" in Crown Court cases? If the Judge admits that they just aren't sure of what he intended, how can the charge itself stay standing?

EDIT: To further confuse, Elias also said that the Custody Threshold was reached, under law this relates to how...

The court must not pass a custodial sentence unless it is of the opinion that the offence, or the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it, was so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence.
Source: Criminal Justice Act 2003

So we also have this statement that not only the original judge, but the appeal judge too, felt this crime was so serious that simply putting a fine on him wouldn't be sufficient, only jail time would do. While accepting that this may well have been an unintentional act (or if intentional, not targeted at the girls specifically), how can you still say a custody threshold has been reached?

This case is strange, from the CPS bringing it to the appeal judge not quashing it. What are we missing? The legislation is concise and clear, there's not an awful lot that is possible to be causing such a crazy situation to be occurring. I guess we have to watch this space...

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Responsive Images: No solution yet

I've just finished reading what is, essentially, a very good A List Apart article on the new(ish) problems of high resolution displays entering the marketplace (such as the new iPad).

It's good because it tells people, again, what they should be practicing but oh so many aren't...optimise your assets. However it's not great because it's the same conversation we've been having for over a decade now. The problems of the turn of the century, where people would "go crazy" and design for 56k modem users leaving those of us on the 28.8k connections languishing in ever longer download times, are the problems of now...but on a more global scale.

I had high hopes...

A visitor to your website might be using a high-PPI tablet or phone from the comfort of her couch, or from the middle of the Arizona desert. Likewise, those brand-new Retina Macbook Pros could be connected to the internet via Google Fiber, or tethered to a 3G hotspot in an airport. We must be careful about our assumptions regarding pixels and bandwidth.

...but ultimately this avenue was simply not progressed. And thus we have the problem about discussion of proper responsive web design in the modern time: It focuses *only* on the front end development team.

I love front end development, the creativity and freedom to express is fantastic...but I also love that when there is a problem that front end development simply can't address, I can fall back to my server side knowledge.

So when I see this...

Other attempts exist, such as bandwidth detection, cookie setting, server-side detection, or a mixture of all three. As much as I’d like robots to solve my problems, these solutions have a higher barrier to entry for your average web developer. The major pain point with all of them is that they introduce server/cookie dependencies, which have been historically troublesome.

We need a purely front-end solution to high resolution images.

...I just have to groan in despair. (emphasis is mine)

You see, the problem of serving the right image size for the right device is indeed a front end problem. You measure the size of the screen you've got, you take the resolution in to account, and you put the right image in to keep everything looking pretty and engaging.

Bandwidth though, bandwidth... that is a server side problem (for now), and one we have gone on for too long ignoring. The idea that you can have a purely front-end solution to the paradoxes of bandwidth management is unrealistic right now, and may always be. I guess that's why the rest of the article ignored this issue.

Take for example your "average web developer", who is on holiday in the moors. They have, at best, a 2g/edge connection to the internet over mobile networks but their company has just called them to sort out a critical problem with a website.

They pull out the (hypothetical, but soon to happen) large screen laptop they develop on knowing this kind of call was possible, with a 200DPI screen. Your purely front-end developer produced website loads some catastrophically large images that take ages, and cost loads, to load and assess.

On the flip side you have someone with an old iPhone2, sitting at home on their WiFi, with bandwidth that exceeds the kind of speeds you'd ever need to buffer your favourite episode of Breaking Bad with no buffering issues, and they are being served heavily optimised images just in case they have little network capability.

Each person receives the opposite experience that they deserve, and all because our purely front-end approach doesn't take in to account the main factor that we're trying to be responsible about.

The solution?

Browsers need to take more responsibility. Our only communication with the user's situation is through the browser. We are sitting in a room with an earpiece on that is connected to a single person. That person can talk to anyone they want, but we can only listen to, and speak to, them.

The browsers need to start taking information from the user's machine, and from their very browsing, to generate reliable and mid-term data of that person's bandwidth. Through access to the device's inner workings, and complimented by being able to keep short-term calculations of something as simple as an ongoing average download speed on all sites, would provide our websites with the information they need to do right by the user.

This could be as simple as sending this information along within the data that is sent to the server as standard (in a HTTP request). A numeric value of the current likely download speed would let server-side developers take that value and guide what is served to the user, by managing which CSS files are delivered, or more directly through a server-side image processing solution such as Adaptive Images.

But it's not impossible to assume that the browser developers themselves can't go one step further. If we are to implement the srcset or picture aspects of HTML5, then why not future proof the web and consider that a value for bandwidth may also be included?

If a media-query style selector was available for bandwidth, such as "min-bandwidth" and "max-bandwidth"...dealing with the potential problem for the value of this bandwidth changing (and thus changing content)...we could add a better granularity to our front-end image requests.

Looking at the Apple pushed srcset attribute, and using a value that represents the current average download speed in KB/s, we could see this (taken from the A List Apart article's example and modified)...

<img alt="Cat Dancing" src="small-1.jpg"
srcset="small-2.jpg 2x 50b, // this is pretty cool
large-2.jpg 100w 100b, // meh
large-2.jpg 100w 2x 400b // meh@2x

You see that I'm following the same nonsensical syntax that has been proposed by saying that "b" represents the bandwidth availability of the client, as "w" represents the pixel width.

If we were to look at the "A List Apart" example, that incorporates the picture element, it may look more like this:

<picture alt="Cat Dancing">
<source media="(min-width: 45em) and (min-bandwidth: 400kb)" srcset="large-1.jpg 1x, large-2.jpg 2x">
<source media="(min-width: 45em) and (min-bandwidth: 200kb)" srcset="large-1.jpg 1x">
<source media="(min-width: 18em) and (min-bandwidth: 100kb)" srcset="med-1.jpg 1x, med-2.jpg 2x">
<source media="(min-width: 18em) and (min-bandwidth: 50kb)" srcset="med-1.jpg 1x">
<source media="(min-bandwidth: 50kb)" srcset="small-1.jpg 1x, small-2.jpg 2x">
<img src="small-1.jpg">

This would solve a whole load of problems, aside from being even more verbose than the already verbose suggestion! For a start it would begin by looking for a small and generic image that all can use. If the screen is a high resolution display it'll go for the higher resolution image, but only if the bandwidth measurements are such that it is responsible to do so.

The end result is that the developer with the large laptop in the hills will get poor resolution imagery, but it'll be fast...while the person at home will get crystal clear high quality imagery, also delivered fast.

By being more holistic in our approach to how we make decisions, whether front-end or server-side, we can deliver better experiences. Adding the ability to control content by an average bandwidth value, at the start of a user's browsing session ideally, we can control load times. We can ensure that no image we serve is likely to take more than 3 seconds to load regardless of the quality being delivered, all because we are deciding on that quality based on their bandwidth limitations.

EDIT: There is a further look at this, and how much broader we can go beyond screen dimensions, on Matthew Palmer's site.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Greedy Brits

There is a strange phenomenon in this country that I can't quite understand. Whether it's misunderstanding, pig ignorance or willful misrepresentation out of greed, our country suffers from a disgusting disease of greed.

Of course, those greedy lot are more vocal than the more measured, and may well be a minority, but their presence is significant in the national discourse none the less.

Take Higher Education tuition fees; This is a "debt" (it's not a real debt) that falls heaviest on those who are strong earners, specifically those that are strong earners from day 1 of their graduate life. Yet if you listen to the NUS, and to Labour, and a swathe of misinformed protestors on the'd believe it is bleeding the poor dry.

Ignore that the terms of this "debt" are far more favourable to the poor than they were before, repayment terms giving people a much greater margin of income before they need to repay their fee loans, all we seem to be able to see if the pound signs that say £9k instead of £3k.

No, paying more is bad. Except a large number of people, with a median wage of £21k (granted, this isn't a graduate median wage, but that figure is nigh on impossible to find accurately) in this country, won't be paying anything back. The rise of the fees from £3k to £9k may as well have been pushed even higher to £100k, because the repayment terms are so favourable to those who are poor.

Furthermore, the terms mean that it doesn't matter what your debt is, you'll be paying it off for 30 years anyway (if you reach the threshold of the median wage in the country, at which point you become part of the wealthier minority). Oh, except if you're super rich of course, in which case you'll not.

So who is really arguing against these changes? If you're rich (but not wealthy in heritage), I guess I can understand it. You used to pay your tuition fee loan off really quickly, now it's going to take you longer; it's "unfair" you have to pay more now given you take more. But if you don't know...what is the problem? you're afraid that you'll have to pay more than you used to?

As I said above, maybe these people are just ignorant of the realities, or maybe they are just out and out greedy. To be paying more than you would have under Labour's old system you have to be someone that enters the top 10% of all earners in the UK, one of the richest earners on the planet.

It creates a bizarre situation where people are complaining that they have money to pay towards maintaining an institution that likely helped them achieve "greatness", because rather than taking an extra 60p of everything they earn in the future on their luxurious salary, it'll only be 51p.


There are literally billions of people in the world that can't even comprehend taking home enough money each year after taxation and "debt" repayments, probably while owning a fairly secure asset in at least one home, to buy three small cars. And you're complaining that you might have to reinvest some of this in to an asset in our society that helped you get to where you are?

Seriously, sort out your priorities.

Then there is the supposed declaration by Nick Clegg of war on the "middle classes", as it would be described in the Daily Mail. New taxes on those earning over £50k, the top 10% of earners in the UK! Cue absolutely batshit-insane, shooting-self-in-foot, cutting-nose-off-to-spite-face, nonsense...

"What is the point in working if the harder you work the more you get penalised? You'll just end up with a nation of backward, scrounging wasters because everyone else will just leave." - m.bauder, London.

We live amongst people that seem to honestly believe that having money that *you don't need* portioned up so that some of it goes back to help people that *don't have the money they need* is penalising you for working harder.

Now, let's just take this shit about you "working harder" our of the equation. It suggests the single mother juggling three part time jobs to keep her kids heated and fed while only just aquiring the median wage isn't working hard. It assumes the cleaners that come in to work every day to the London underground and clean up our shit and take our abuse and stress on a daily basis don't work hard. More importantly it assumes that sitting at a desk, funneling other people's decisions, and having meetings over lunch is hard work too.

But what is the penalty? If I currently earn £42k, and I get a £5k pay rise, then I'm up each year by around £2500. What exactly am I having to deal with to get that £5k pay rise anyway? Maybe a new person to take responsibility for? A better job title?

Maybe I'm self-employed and I only get that extra £5k is I am doing actual extra work, perhaps more hours, truly "working hard" I going to look that £2500 down and say... "nah, don't need it" just because it happens to be the result of a 40%, rather than 20% tax rate?

let's not forget that I'm already taking home something in the region of £28k *already* and that is at least £5k above what you "need" to live a comfortable life style.

Don't think the idea of £2300 is worth it compared to £2500 in take home pay? Fine, don't do it. The work won't disappear, it'll just go to someone else who is either a far more rational greedy person or, (fingers crossed) someone that actually needs the money.

You stamping your feet, crossing your arms, and sticking your bottom lip out saying "fine, I won't earn that much then" isn't a threat. It's laughable that you think your earning power is even remotely that important. All the "threat" does is allow more people in to work, and it means money has the opportunity to be more evenly distributed around the population of this country.

"Im sick of polititions thinking hitting the middle class is the answer, go after the people who can afford your ludicrous tax hikes!" - ali, Dublin

It just confounds me that people that earn an insane amount of money by global standards can think they don't have anything left to give. So you might need to not buy your over-priced brand of tomato sauce, maybe you'll need to use the car a bit less (at least you might walk more, avoid the heart attack from all this stressed outrage at how everyone is trying to take the pennies from your piggy bank). At what point though will you ever realise how good you've actually got it?

Of course the basic, greedy, one-track-mindism of this kind of person, to boil everything down to money and possessions, causes much more damage. Not being able to "afford" to give a fair share of your disposable income to the state to pay for things like welfare, job creation, healthcare, education, security only means that more is needed to help people. If your money isn't helping to create jobs, then it's costing you more in welfare bills. If your money isn't helping to educate and pre-preemptively tackle issues such as violence, and illness...then people will just cost more in patching them up. If your money isn't going towards keeping the peace, then it just costs you more in cleaning up, detaining and compensating.

It begs the questions as to whether or not these greedy lot are even responsible enough with money to deserve it!

At the end of the day we live in a society now where if you earn the median wage, taking out the basic costs of living such as necessary food, rent, insurance, tax and basic amenities, they have perhaps a 25-30% disposable income that they can use (probably to spend on more than basic food first!). Someone earning £50k will have close to 50% disposable income. I wouldn't be calling for that level to be the same no matter the wage (though note it would still mean someone on £50k would have twice as much money in real terms), but do we really believe for one second that out of everyone in the entire country it is this group of people that are both unable to give more, and are already targeted "too much"?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

When do the Lib Dems grow a pair?

The Lib Dems, this conference they're using their limited lime-light to talk about how they're for "fairer tax"; but, pantomime audience, those evil Tories just won't let that happen!

[Audience: Boooooooooooo]

It seems then that the Lib Dems are positioning themselves in to an area they know how to fight from... claiming they want things but without the power to do them. The trouble is that previously they weren't in government, and now they are.

What are we meant to take from this kind of declaration? That the Tories want to keep helping the wealthy? No shit! That's hardly a revelation now is it? No, the only thing we can take is that the Lib Dems are losing their grip on direct power, and are choosing to take a back seat.

Now, for the record, I think that the Lib Dem involvement in creating compromise in Tory legislation has been, on balance, positive. The difference between the NHS bill before and after Lib Dem involvement is significant, the progressive nature of the reforms to Higher Education fees is to be applauded, and even though the end result wasn't positive at all, the Lib Dem Lords still did a fantastic job in creating a hard time for the Tories in their welfare "reforms".

This doesn't mean the end results are perfect, but it shows that at least moderation has been a result of coalition politics.

But that, it seems, is where it ends. No commons reform, no Lords reform, no repeal of the Digital Economy Act (or the parts relating to shutting off people's internet without being found guilty of a crime), retaining the 50p tax for now, mansion tax, falling behind on Green targets...the list goes on as to the number of things that Lib Dems want and are not getting.

They can claim as much as they want that they've achieved certain things in government, but these are all things the Tories would have, in all likelihood, done anyway.

So, in light of all these failures...what's the point in sitting there and pretending you're in opposition again (aside from how comfortable it feels)?

If Lib Dems are serious about fairer tax it's time to make a stand. Are they there to make real change or to moderate the Tories? I cannot believe for a second that the country would do anything other than (generally) be happy for the Lib Dems to make such a stand right now and make it a "make or break" issue for the coalition.

I guess it's time to tell just whether the Lib Dems are actually golden, or really just yellow.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Students and the new 2012+ loans system: Who loses?

I have the same discussion every time Clegg comes out. Clegg will say something, like that he's sorry and that he did something wrong, and those who don't understand or don't want to accept reality will come out and say "You bastard! We will never be satisfied, you ruined Higher Education funding, everything is ruined, the world is ended" or something to that ill-conceived effect.

They are wrong. The changes to the HE fee's system are not only a net positive, they are overwhelmingly long as you agree that the wealthy should pay more relatively than the poor for the upkeep of essential services in the UK....and so long as you agree that accessible Higher Education is an essential services.

Let's quickly revisit the old situation and the new situation.


People racked up loans of £3k per year plus a maintenance loan if they took it.
This was repaid through a fixed rate based on income above ~£16k, or via advance repayment.
Any loan remaining after 25 years is wiped out
The loan increases by inflation only.


People can rack up loans of up to £9k per year plus a maintenance loan if they took it.
This is repaid through a fixed rate of income above ~£21k, or via advance repayment.
Any loan remaining after 30 years is wiped out
The loan increases by an interest amount, set above inflation.

So as you can see, fundamentally similar systems, with some key differences. For a start the new system introduces a situation where some may be repaying more than they actually took out as a loan. however the change to income boundaries mean that people will pay less each year than they used to to repay the loan. The amount of the loan, obviously increases.

It's not a debt:

But the key to remember here is that it's not a debt. It's an obligation to pay a percentage of your income as a graduate, up to a threshold that is marginally variable.

With a traditional loan, the loan:
Counts towards your credit rating and ability to take out other loans
Is paid back REGARDLESS of ability to pay (though lenders may come to agreements with you)
Remains until it is fully paid, after interest, even if you die
If a fixed term, repayments on it can vary based on a varying interest rate

A tax, on the other hand:
Is paid based on income or transaction
Never ends unless special conditions are reached
Leaves no legacy cost for next of kin to pay (unless in relation to taxes that occur due to actions after your death)
Has no set amount to be paid, no threshold to reach.

So as you can see, this system is a mishmash of a tax and a loan...for the benefit of the student as it happens. You see it has all the hallmarks of a tax, meaning no liability for the "debt" to pass to others, no variation in repayment amount that isn't linked to your increased income, doesn't affect your credit rating or ability to borrow, and has a threshold on ability to pay. It also has the benefit of a loan...being fixed term rather than never ending it means the amount may never be, fully repaid (For many this is actually the likely outcome). Also being a loan it has the downside of collecting interest, though this becomes largely irrelvant when compared to how a tax operates.

So then, how has Nick Clegg ruined the system for students?

Short answer: He hasn't.

Those who argue against the current system are either arguing that it's worse than the old system (because it's higher fees!) or that it's worse than a hypothetical "better" system (because we shouldn't pay for HE outside of general taxation!)

The former are ill informed, or perhaps just aware that finally the system is rigged not to help those who are better off, but to finally make them pay a fair share in to the system. The latter are people better off ignoring in a political debate like this, since ideals are just that.

What we can discuss is the current vs the former system. What better way than to work out who's better off, or not?

Part-time students:

Let's get this easy one out of the way. Part time students used to have to find the money up front to pay for their courses. Given their likely reduced income to be able to take time to study, this kind of upfront cost was entirely prohibitive to re-skilling in an academic sense.

Now they get to take out fee loans the same as everyone else. Some may end up paying more than they would have up front, however since the original situation was prohibitive to the poor, and only those who then go on to increase their income will be worse off, I think we can call this an extremely progressive move, can't we?

ELQ students:

Thanks to Rob Fay ‏(@Arathrael) for having me consider this one. Equivalent or lower qualification (ELQ) students are students that already have a degree, whether from abroad or not, and are going for a different degree to the same or lower level.

So, for example, a masters student won't get any help (unless going for a specific course that the government is happy to help fund) doing a different subject undergraduate or masters course. Someone who has an undergraduate degree in law but decides they want to be an English scholar won't get any help either.

How the new system affects them is varied from institution to institution. Like with foreign student fees, this is an area where different institutions have a more free reign on charges. Some simply add a supplemental fee to the existing course fee, others charge as if you are a foreign student, some match the cost of the undergraduate degree as if you weren't an ELQ student, and others wildly vary depending on the course.

The change in fee structure has done little to change this situation. For a few this system will be no different as it was already expensive and remains so. for other their fees may increase by a small or large amount. Those worse hit as ELQ students are ones that would have been getting the "best" deal a year ago at their institution as the margin of change is greater for these institutions that are matching their fees to the full time cost of course of non-ELQ students.

It's a definite blow to the idea of taking a second degree if you want to change direction, but while part-time students above make up a significant number of students that will benefit, ELQ's are much smaller in number. It's an area of the policy I'd sorely like to see changed, however we may be talking about less than 1% of the student population being negatively affected.

Postgraduate student:

Postgraduates are unchanged from previous years, where tuition fee loans aren't available to them.

Undergraduate students:

The main body that are effected are the undergraduate students, students taking their first degree. While their fees go up to £9k a year, the effect for anyone that doesn't make the average graduate wage, or has poor wage progression, is that they will pay less for their education than they did with the old system.

Let's outline some assumptions I shall be making from hear on in.

1) Tuition fees are £9k.
2) Everyone is taking a maintenance loan of £5500
3) courses are three years long
4) RPI will be around 3.5% and stable (hah!)
5) The cut off income for paying contributions starts at £21k and rises with RPI
6) Interest rates will remain as currently defined (complicated, RPI only < £21k, RPI plus a variable rate based on salary between £21k and £41k, and RPI + 3% on over £41k)
7) UK salary growth only grows with inflation

What this should signify is your general university goer, taking advantage of the money up front in loan form, on a standard course. The country is stable, prices are rising, but so are salary expectations. The interest rates mean you have to be doing well on salary progression to escape the interest rate, once passing the 2012 equivalent of 6.5% or thereabouts on your unpaid loan! That is, until you've been paying it for 30 years.

So, let's make some strawmen. How about Terry, he graduates into a good graduate job earning £22k, securing a good pay rise in his third year of employment, and his sixth, but otherwise stagnant on pay rises in line with RPI. In year 11 he makes a career jump, a promotion or moving to another company to a higher position, still attaining only modest RPI level wage increases. After his 20th year he gets another big promotion which sees him coasting along on RPI level wage increases until his 30 years are done.

Terry ends up on a salary of around £56.6k in today's money, he's done pretty well for himself. Still, he hasn't paid off all his debt remaining AND he hasn't actually paid back in to the system what he took out when accounting for inflation. However he would have paid off his smaller debt in the old system in about half the time.

Situation: Strong earner
Comparison to old system: not favourable
Paid off debt: No
Paid off amount borrowed initially: No

How about June. She is unemployed out of uni for 3 years before taking a low paid job around £16k at the wages of the time. Her wage progression is only bouncing along at RPI, but she sticks at the job. After a few years she's had enough and decides to start her own business. It starts slowly, but she soon makes a success of it.

She builds up her business to a stable level, taking regular above inflation pay rises for herself, after 30 years sitting on a reasonable salary around £47.5k in today's money. The loan didn't stop her from being able to get a business loan or any such necessity to make her business work, and ends up not only not paying very little of her debt before it's wiped out, but she doesn't pay what she put in AND she just about doesn't pay as much as she would under the old system.

Situation: Unemployed to entrepreneur
Comparison to old system: slightly favourable
Paid off debt: No
Paid off amount borrowed initially: No

Gary. He starts strong, straight in to a highly paid job at £35k. The job has a structured salary progression for 10 years after which progression drops off to just 1% above RPI. Good pension though. He repays his loan 3 years before the 30 year mark, but ends on a salary around £55k in today's money.

The result is that he pays much, much more than he would have under the old system, pays slightly more than he took out originally after inflation, but pays it all off.

Situation: Great job for life
Comparison to old system: very unfavourable
Paid off debt: Yes
Paid off amount borrowed initially: Yes

Kelly isn't one of the lucky ones, she remains unemployed for most of her life, except for the odd part time job, spending most of her time raising her children instead.

Situation: "Full time mother"
Comparison to old system: Same/Marginally favourable for those who get a low paid job for a period of time.
Paid off debt: No
Paid off amount borrowed initially: No

Bobby manages to get a £26k job out of uni, however he never really applies himself as much as he should, he goes from job to job, but never manages to attain a pay rise above RPI. He ends, obviously, on £26k in today's money...but at least he's not had to pay too much. Under the old system he would have fully repaid his debt, under this one he's not even paid half of that amount.

Situation: coasting along
Comparison to old system: very favourable
Paid off debt: No
Paid off amount borrowed initially: No

Then we have Felix. He starts out from the bottom but he is extremely capable of working his way up. He's got the right skills, he has the right industry, and after a steady and consistent pay progression he finishes his 30th year with a £150k salary.

The progression means that he's able to pay the debt off early, saving some money on what he would have had to have paid if he was forced to keep up payments for the full 30 years. But he does pay roughly what he borrowed, and paid significantly more, perhaps double the amount, than he would have done under the old system.

Situation: Tipped for the top
Comparison to old system: unfavourable
Paid off debt: Yes
Paid off amount borrowed initially: Yes

Finally let's look at Kacey, she has a good job but also puts her kids first...applies herself when they get towards university age themselves revs up the career. For almost 20 years she gets an ok set of pay rises, some years not getting more than RPI as her small business employers struggle with the times. But as they expand she is later able to make moves up the ladder and command greater salaries. She ends up on almost £76k after 30 years with most of the salary earned in the later years.

She ultimately pays just over half her loan. She would have, under the old system, almost paid her loan after the 25 year cut off, but the amount she has paid into the system only exceeds the old system debt by £2k, while at the same time saving her significant money each year as the payments are lower.

Situation: Late bloomer
Comparison to old system: marginally favourable
Paid off debt: No
Paid off amount borrowed initially: No

There are many more "types" I'm sure, feel free to ask me to model one. These represent, I feel, the main types of salary progression; from the unemployed or low earner, to the high flier, with those who make salary gains early or late in their career in between.

It's clear to me who the winners and the losers are. The people rich enough to pay off early need to be significantly rich before they gain any "benefit" and even then are worse off than under the old system. Those who stagnate around the average salary will win, as will those who have low paid regular jobs. People who achieve later in life will also be winners, while those that start strong but fail to progress their salary will perhaps be worse off...though being someone earning an average of £47k per year over 30 years is debatably never so "worse off" to be animated about.

The reality is that unless you're doing well in life, compared to everyone else in the country, you're going to be better off if you go to university now compared to in previous years.

Shouldn't the fees be less?

NO! Labour floated a plan to move the fees to £6k instead of £9k, playing on student's fears and trying to cynically move in on a territory that they have no right to occupy given their place in the creation of very real student debt.

The effect of this plan would be that Felix is much better off, while people like June are no better off. Reducing the "burden" actually helps the rich and doesn't help those on lower incomes at all. If anything, the fees should be increased from 9k to something higher, to ensure that those graduates that progress hard and fast in their salary always pay in to the system!

Is it regressive?

Well, yes...if you take the letter of the meaning the fact that very wealthy or high earning individuals can pay off all they owe before they accrue any interest, while less well earning individuals may have their "debt" increase and the amount they pay back end up larger than they initially borrowed.

But the old system is also regressive. The same rich people can pay off their loan early, and easier. The old system is technically more regressive than what we've got now...and while I'd rather see an out and out graduate tax rather than this weird loan, I also welcome progress.


We can't let the best be enemy of good. It happens over and over again that we have people that scupper positive steps forward because their too hard headed to take a compromise. Whether it's Lords Reform, or Common's reform, or this hear change to HE fees...there is granularity in what is good and not. The situation is that the old system clawed back money from people that barely had enough to pay their rent, and completely ignored the large proportion of part-time students in the UK.

This system redresses that, and while it leaves ELQs out in the cold (for shame) it helps many, many other people in to not being penalised for their degree not working out for them the way they thought it would, for their industry collapsing around them, or for choosing to do more altruistic but low paid work.

Why not a graduate tax?

So this is the puzzling thing. If it's like a graduate tax, and is paid like a graduate tax...why isn't it just a graduate tax. It'd be interesting to find an official line, but with the SLC set up and the loan book available at some point to be picked up by private interest, there is a money saving to be had for the government by keeping it as loans. In theory.

Also a graduate tax opens up a Pandora's box. How do you deal with the fact you have people with loans who would now have a graduate tax, and how about all those students from the 60s through to current day who never signed up to go to university with a graduate tax in mind.

Wiping people's slates clean is easy, convincing everyone who's graduated they should be paying a graduate tax on the other hand...I would like to see the politician brave enough.

General taxation

Of course my preferred route is general taxation paying for Higher Education, including second degrees (those ELQ students). Creating a world where re-skilling and re-educating is accessible and free to anyone who wants to do it is necessary for a free society and to break down the barriers to social mobility. University as an experience changes and matures people (in general) and provides them with life experiences and scenarios far richer than they could find without it.

This isn't to say HE is perfect, it needs to reform before people could begin to be confident enough in it to not be disgruntled at paying for it in their taxes, but equally I believe that where the tax is found for HE doesn't have to come from the pockets of shop workers and bin men. Businesses should play their part more than individuals, especially if they can target where their tax funding goes in a more direct manner, and an additional few percentage points of income tax should be put on the higher earner bracket. After all, high earning graduates will now be effectively paying a 49% tax rate, spreading that cost to everyone that is successful in their earnings to help create more successful workers seems to me to be a fair thing to do.

[Note: This has been put together in a rush, I hope to get the references, etc, together soon...unless you're reading this in a few months, in which case I totally forgot. Prod me.]