Tuition fees – commons vote likely to be on 9th December

On the 15th October this year I wrote to Nick Clegg on the subject of the Browne report and university tuition fees.

With the vote in the commons now being reported on Sky News as likely to be taking place on 9th December, I thought I’d revisit what I’d written to see if I still felt the same way about the subject.

If anything, I think what is being proposed is even worse than I feared in October.

One thing that has becoming increasingly apparent is that it looks as if the proposed method of funding will not only cost students more, but it will also cost the general taxpayer more too. After all, the interest being deferred on the much larger loans that students will need has to come from somewhere while they are studying and earning too little to pay their loan off. The proposal therefore won’t contribute to the deficit reduction and will probably make the deficit worse by 2014-15. Madness.

I’ve also had time to read the OECD’s report (which I’ve blogged about previously) which demonstrates that government funding of tertiary education pays for itself in both monetary and social terms over the lifetime of the individuals receiving it.

In addition to the OECD report, the HEFCE has now also published the full details of their survey into the attitudes of the public into the funding of tertiary education.

It’s worthwhile reading and demonstrates that only 2% of the public think that a substantial reduction in government funding for tertiary education (which is what the announced 80% / £2.9bn cut in university teaching budgets is) should take place. More than 80% of respondents thought that funding should be maintained or increased from 2009 levels.

No wonder the coalition is in such a mess over this – there isn’t that level of agreement from the UK public about anything else in politics that I can think of.

The tuition fees policy therefore has no financial rationale, almost no public support and is being driven through largely because the Conservative elements of the coalition believe in their hearts that tertiary education should be privatised, with public support going only to “economically useful” subjects. After all, what have the social sciences, humanities and arts ever done for us?

I’m ashamed that people I considered to be good Liberals or Social Democrats have been duped over this, as even Vince Cable now seems to be belatedly realising, talking openly about the possibility of him abstaining on his own department’s proposals.

The NUS aren’t helping the cause much either – particularly as there’s little practical difference between their graduate tax and the coalition’s graduate contribution proposals. The NUS are focusing their firepower in the wrong direction.

The real issue is the withdrawal of the £2.9bn/year from funding HE teaching. As this will cost taxpayers more in the long run it needs to be seen for what it is – a policy motivated by a destructive political ideology, rather than a pragmatic approach to providing the future skills our country needs.

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