Sadly we didn’t manage to defeat the Government on Tuition Fees last night but there is no doubt that the sustained campaign against the imposition of Tuition Fees of up to £9000 was instrumental in reducing the Coalition’s majority to 21 (usually they have about 80). Even a few Tories had been influenced to speak against the proposals. Clearly the sight of 50,000 demonstrators and the targeted contact with MPs by letter and email did put pressure on a number of Lib-Dem MPs to honour their pre-election pledge.
Unfortunately a good few more stuck to their governmental posts. One Scottish Lib Dem MP is till posting on her website her view that ‘ideally’ at some unspecified time in the future her party should abolish all Tuition Fees! How to reconcile that with voting for the hike to £9000 (creating a potential debt of £70,000 in courses such as medicine) I cannot understand. Because this had less to do with ‘reducing the deficit’ than a fundamental change of direction to move the cost of higher education from the taxpayer entirely to the individual. And as Shadow spokesman John Denham said the savings may turn out to be illusory because of the cost of borrowing and ‘bad debt’. John made a comprehensive demolition of many of the Government’s claims in his speech and outlined what Labour would have done (see http://bit.ly/ev9YI1).
Like many of my colleagues I spent a long 5 hours yesterday ‘bobbing’ up and down in the effort to ‘catch the Speaker’s eye’ without s success. This showed why 5 hours was just not long enough especially in the absence of detailed proposals for many aspects of the change. Vince Cable added no substance to the various ‘carrots’ thrown out in the media since the original statement eg :the ‘scholarship fund’ to relieve some students of fees
- Who will pay (universities probably although many get no extra income from the change unless they charge more than £7000 – so ’slightly less poor ‘ students may end up with larger debts to provide scholarships for others.)
- Who will be eligible – we are told free school meal pupils – but at what time – just before going to Uni or at any time during schooldays? And only ‘out of work benefits’ qualify people for Free School Meals – so those in low paid work miss out. Further many people in low paid work go in and out of work so a ‘fixed date’ eligibility could be misleading.
Questions like this simply haven’t been answered before we were being asked to vote!
The Government has tried to argue that these measures are ‘fairer’ than the current arrangements but:
- What is ‘fair’ about tripling the potential indebtedness? The monthly payment for some may be less – but payment will go on for much longer.
- The very rich will simply pay upfront – and thus pay less than many who take the loan – after all for many of these £9000 is actually less than they were previously paying in school fees!
- Much is made of no-one paying till they earn £21,000 (at 2016 earnings levels) as if graduates on low earnings will stay like that. Most would hope to get over that level after the first few years at the very least – so will still pay. Cameron said at PMQs this week that graduates would not pay until they were ‘successful’ – I’m not sure on what basis earning £21,000 in 2016 is rated as being hugely ‘successful’ unless he means that getting a job at even ‘graduate entry level’ is going to be seen as a big success in 2016 due to high unemployment levels!