STATEMENT ON TUITION FEES VOTE
Tuesday, 14 December 2010 15:36
Firstly, am I against tuition fees? Yes I am. I fought them when the Labour Party brought them in, I fought the top-up fees when they introduced them, and I argued within the Liberal Democrats for a policy of phasing them out. I haven't changed my position. I hope at the next election we have a policy similar to the one we fought the last election on. But in case anyone didn't notice, we didn't win the last election. We got 57 seats. The Conservatives and the Labour party, both committed to tuition fees, got rather a lot more than that. So we can't do what we wanted to, because not enough people voted for us. That's democracy. And it means we have to do the best with what we've got.
So if I'm asked to vote for a package that for the first time means that 40% of all students who currently pay up-front fees (the part-time students no-one seems to care about but are the majority in my constituency) no longer have to; that students continue to be free of all charges while they're at university; that graduates no longer have to start paying back loans at £16,000 salary but at £21,000 instead; that the threshold is up-rated on a yearly basis, unlike the present one which hasn't changed since it was introduced, and that will also apply to the £16,000 threshold for students under the current scheme, so they won't start paying back until later; that the repayments are no longer at a flat rate but according to ability to pay, so that a nurse, for instance, will no longer pay £45 a month on average salary but £7 a month instead; that repayments cease if you no longer earn above the threshold; that almost all students who go on to earn up to £50,000 will never be required to pay back the loan; that students from less well-off backgrounds will get enhanced maintenance grants, and those from very poor households will receive bursaries to pay their fees; that industry will be asked for the first time to make a contribution to university funding; that loans are not to be taken into account when assessing mortgage or other loan applications; that won't involve a graduate tax, which apparently the NUS and Labour (unlike a month ago) want, which would mean graduates starting to pay back at about £7,000 a year and carry on for the rest of their lives, while rich graduates avoid it altogether; that we don't have to cut welfare benefits or pensions to pay for the education of high earners; and the universities have a secure funding that means they can offer a half decent education in the first place; if I'm asked to vote for that package, what should I do?.
I want the best deal I can get for students and future students, and I continue to work for the day when we can deliver a properly taxpayer-funded higher education system in the future. And that's why I voted for the proposal, not because I think it the best possible solution, but because it was the best available, and certainly better than anyone envisaged emerging from the Browne Review had there been a majority government after the election.