Ewan Hoyle, a prominent Lib Dem campaigner has posted a blog post on his take on Liberal Democrat back bench MP’s reaction to the Browne Report and the Coalition plans for higher education funding.
Ewan’s post is a little too emotive and expletive laden for my tastes, but he makes some key point about the hidden nuggets with the Coalition proposals. In the post, Ewan writes:
I was going to call this blog post “Failing to see the wood for the fees”. Deferred fees are not the determinant of whether young people can support themselves through university. Maintenance funding determines whether students can feed and house themselves through their studies and maintenance funding will RISE following the implementation of government proposals. MORE students from poorer backgrounds will be able to attend higher education…
One of the key issues pointed out to me by Malcolm Bruce MP at the weekend is that most school age students and their parents do not realise that there have not been any up front fees since Labour introduced top up fees many years ago. The system of payment for University has been a graduate contribution for quite some time. I have to be honest and admit that I had not known that myself.
Clearly there is concern about saddling graduates with significant levels of debt is less than ideal. The proposals mean that they will have that debt for up to 30 years and could effectively pay an addition 9% tax. However along with Ewan’s points above, the raising the threshold for paying back the debt to £21,000 is a helpful move.
This doesn’t take anything away from fact that the Liberal Democrat policy was to phase out tuition fees in favour of funding through general taxation. But buried within the details of the proposals are nuggets that suggest that students from poorer background will find it easier to go to University initially, albeit facing higher levels of debt afterwards, but hopefully in a position to be able to afford those debts.
The emotional response, gross simplification of the issues and vilification of Lib Dem MPs, particularly Nick Clegg do not enlighten the debate. They have made it very difficult to fully understand the ramifications of the proposals.
What I can confidently say is that Nick Clegg has not become a different person, with different values. He will have faced the prospect of unlimited fees and applied his Liberal Democrat values to an impossible choice. The result is something less than ideal but grimly, probably the best deal that we could get for students, given that the Conservatives and Labour would have supported unlimited fees.