A Timely Reform by Ian Ridley

Blog & web site of Ian Ridley

Petition: Lib Dems against a rise in Tuition Fees

LDs against feesLib Dem blogger Neil Woollcott has set up a petition for Lib Dem supporters (and anyone else) who want to let senior Liberal Democrat ministers know their opposition to an increase in Tuition Fees.

I encourage everyone to sign this.

I oppose the rise for two reasons;

1) If our opposition to an increase in fees was going to be negotiable in forming a coalition, why did so many of our MPs sign the NUS pledge to oppose an increase during the 2010 General Election campaign? I realise that some policy has to be up in the give-and-take of coalition talks. So why make such a clear atand prior to an election when the policy was going to be put up for horse-trading and a few months later some Lib Dem MPs would be voting to support increases in fees?

2) The whole Higher Education sector is a mess. It has no strategic direction as to what it is for and how big it should be. Every year thousands of students get into a lot of debt in the mistaken belief (heldover from the 1980s) that a degree always  leads a better salaried job. Many degrees take far longer to study for than they need to, wasting the students’ time and money.

The increase in fees is justified by the coalition as part of reducing the deficit and a need to protect university spending. In fact it is just an ad hoc solution to the hole that will be left by  spending cuts, whilst maintaining current student numbers.

The questions about what Higher Education is for, how many graduates England needs and how do we ensure equal access regardless of a student’s income background have not been answered.

Funding-wise a Graduate Tax might be more equitable but it has been rejected in the short-term because the scheme would require start-up Treasury funding. I would feel more comfortable if Vince Cable had announced that fee increases were a short-term measure until the economy improved and that they would be replaced by a Graduate Tax scheme when funds allowed. That would be a far from ideal policy but one that I could live with.

I have not seen mention of the knock-on effect that the polciy will have on postgraduate numbers. I believe that fees have already had a big impact on this area. Graduates with £20,000 debts are not attracted by starting 3 years of PhD research. During this time students continue to live on a very basic income and can get into more debt, whilst their student loans accrue more interest. The new policy will just make postgraduate study even less of an option, restricting the range of people entering academic and other research.

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