How could Cambridge fund a programme of joint activities bringing together local school children and college students with the thousands of students from abroad that come here for courses?
TL:DR – Exploring if Cambridge could introduce a voluntary 1% levy on the profits of all of the private colleges in and around Cambridge to fund a comprehensive programme of events and activities that bring together local children and young people with those that come here to undertake short to medium-length courses at private colleges in Cambridge.
“Why not make it compulsory?”
No legal powers to do so – it would require an Act of Parliament to bring in something like this. A snowflake is more likely to survive inside an active volcano than the chances of The Treasury relinquishing such tax-raising powers to local councils. The culture of The Treasury and ministers that work with them is not one to relinquish powers on taxation and spending.
“Hang on – what’s the problem we’re trying to solve here?”
The issue as I see it is that young people from across the world are coming to Cambridge for their courses, and are socialising with each other in a bubble that seems to exclude locals of the same age. There are a number of things that come to mind:
- Some of the friendships started up on such courses can last a very long time – ones that can extend into the world of work later on, and our young people are missing out on this
- The price of studying in Cambridge is not cheap – thus we have created an exclusive bubble in our city that our young people don’t have access to
- Students coming to Cambridge studying at these institutions only get to experience a limited side of Cambridge
- Our young people miss out on the cultural exchanges that they could otherwise benefit from – especially as most of the people coming to study here are not from countries on the traditional ‘exchange students’ circuit
“Why would any private institution voluntary hand over their profits or turnover for such a scheme?”
In part it depends on the values that such colleges want to have, and what role they see themselves as having in the life of Cambridge. For the more responsible ones, having such a scheme like this – a city-wide one, would be of huge benefit to them. As well as having the positive publicity of being a civically-minded institution, such a scheme would benefit from economies of scale and also take much of the administrative arrangements of running such a scheme out of their hands, ensuring they concentrate on what they specialise in. Furthermore, the more difficult part of the work – outreach to young people in and around Cambridge – is done for them as part of the scheme.
As a city-wide scheme, it also means that no one institutions disproportionately benefits over others – while at the same time not being part of it means that not only do their students lose out, their competitors will have an advantage over them.
Benefits for Cambridge state schools
I’ve lost count of the number of times people have told me that the biggest barrier to engaging with young people is the school receptionist. Short of sacking an entire cohort of school receptionists (who collectively may not be where the root of the problem is) which may sound tempting to those frustrated by them, a better and less disruptive method would be to set up a city-wide function that takes the complexity and delivery out of the hands of schools – similar to what Form the Future does brilliantly for careers outreach in & around Cambridge for our young people.
For young people in Cambridge, the benefits for them as well as having something to do, would also be the free access to a host of leisure facilities that might otherwise be inaccessible to them – eg on costs grounds. For sports and arts activities alone this could be transformative for many of them – thinking on physical and mental health benefits amongst other things. It may also help reduce some of the crime and anti-social behaviour rates if those at risk have something to both divert their attention and also make them more familiar with those that come here and study. I’ve lost track of the number of depressing reports of visitors being the victims of crime. One for our Police and Crime Commissioner to look at?
Food for thought…