Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Tuition fees

In welcoming the Welsh Assembly Government's decision to protect Welsh students from an increase in tuition fees, Peter Black recommended that the coalition government in Westminster look again at their decision. Speaking on BBC Radio's "Good Morning, Wales", the South Wales West AM agreed with Plaid Cymru's Nerys Evans that WAG's decision was a triumph for devolution and a good argument for a "Yes" vote in the forthoming referendum on increasing powers for the Assembly.

In Westminster, John Leech, MP for Manchester Withington best expressed LibDem back-benchers' position:

The coalition Government should take no lessons on tuition fees. It is worth reminding the House time and time again that it was the Labour Government who introduced tuition fees, after making an explicit manifesto commitment that they would not do so, and with an enormous Commons majority. It was also the Labour Government who were responsible for setting up the Browne review, with the explicit intention of increasing fees. But because they knew that it would be unpopular, they cynically delayed the outcome of the review until after the election to avoid losing votes.
This evening, I want to make it very clear that I do not support a rise in tuition fees, and I have made it clear publicly that I will vote against any attempt to lift the cap on fees. Call me old-fashioned, but unlike the Labour party, I actually support free education and I believe that a first degree should be free. That is why I supported our policy to scrap tuition fees. The House should be clear that things would have been different under a Liberal Democrat Administration, rather than a coalition Government, but we have to face the fact that 66% of people voted in the election for parties that were committed to increasing tuition fees, so in coalition discussions it was always going to be difficult to win the argument on tuition fees and force them to be scrapped.
I will vote against an increase in fees, even though I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State [Vince Cable] has worked incredibly hard to come up with proposals that will make the system fairer than the current fees system. Nobody will pay back any fees until they earn more than £21,000, there will be no up-front fees for part-time students and additional support will be made available for poorer students.
I will vote against tuition fees simply because I believe that an increase in the cap will discourage some young people from going to university in the future. Under these proposals, the 25% least well-off graduates will be better off than under Labour's current system, but the flaw in my right hon. Friend's proposal is that no one goes to university thinking that they will be among the least well-paid 25% of graduates, so it will put some off.
The Labour party needs to come clean on its plans for higher education funding and student finance, so that its sudden cynical conversion to opposition to increased fees can be exposed for the sham that it is.


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