Much has been made in the election campaign about Council Tax-who should pay it, should it be replaced, how much should be charged. One sector which has been conspicuously overlooked is that of the writing-up postgraduate.
Those who find themselves in this particular limbo face a serious financial dilemma: as they are no longer under tuition, they no longer qualify as students. Consequently, they are officially liable to pay Council Tax and, unless their HEI recognize them as students before their local council, they can find themselves facing financial meltdown just at the time when they can least afford to take the time to earn money.
After three years of research, possibly becoming the world´s expert on one´s chosen topic, the PhD researcher can find their writing-up hampered by liability for extra debt which may require sacrificing valuable time to paid employment in order to make debts meet. Thesis quality may suffer; some candidates have even been known to withdraw due to lack of time for writing up, wasting not only several years of their lives but depriving society at large of the fruits of their labour.
This problem has come to the fore recently. When Paisley asked fellow-affiliates what arrangements they had for writers-up liable to pay Council Tax, the responses indicated a patchy situation. Several HEIs have local arrangements whereby writers-up are recognised as students and thereby not liable for Council Tax, but this does not apply to those who reside outside the Council area.
What about one who lives in the next county? It is unrealistic to expect every individual HEI to make arrangements with every relevant local authority. That is why we welcome the NPC´s briefing paper on Council Tax, following a meeting with the NUS and Westminster Minister for Higher Education, Bill Rammel MP.
The issue of Council Tax exemption for writers-up is one which requires legislation to enshrine their status as students. It is far too complicated as issue to be left to the hit-and-miss of local negotiations. Exemption will of course add to the pressure to enforce a fixed period for writing up (NPC has argued in the past for six months with funding) but individual circumstances should always be taken into account.
We hope recent discussions have a ripple effect throughout the United Kingdom and will be campaigning towards that end.