Tuition fees Debate

Last night's tuition fee debate

For those of you who didn’t see last night’s debate you can click on the photo above to see it.

My speech is 1hr 16 mins in, where I again publicly state that I will vote against  an increase in tuition fees.

My concern over the Browne Review and the Government’s response is the impact that higher tuition fees will have on discouraging students from deprived backgrounds from applying to University, for fear of the debts they will accumulate. Under the current fees most students are leaving University with debts well in excess of £20,000. I do not accept that people are not put off going to University because the prospect of debt, and with at least an additional £10,000 on top of the existing debts, more and more people from deprived backgrounds will choose not to apply. While the bottom 25% of graduates will pay less than they currently do, nobody goes to University assuming that they will be one of those least well-off graduates. The assumption is that they will have to pay it all back, and so it is safe to assume that many more students from poorer backgrounds will simply choose not to go into higher education.

The Liberal Democrats have been put in a very difficult position in the context of the comprehensive spending review and the willingness of most Universities to accept funding cuts in return for an ability to significantly raise fees. The previous Labour Government supported an increase in fees. The Browne review was set up with the intention of raising student tuition fees and had the support of the Conservatives. The publication of the review was then cynically delayed for political reasons, with the Labour Government knowing full well that it would be unpopular to increase fees before the General Election.

Any changes to the current system need to make payments fairer.

The problem facing Vince Cable is that he has been dealt a very poor hand, and has come up with a fairer (but more expensive) system. What we must not forget is that Labour set up the Browne review to increase fees (and they introduced fees in the first place, despite promising not to). They had every intention of raising fees, and would not have made the system progressive in the way that Vince has managed to do.

The Liberal Democrats are being accused of breaking our promises over tuition fees. What people fail to recognise is that we only have 57 MPs. If there was a Liberal Democrat Government we would have done things differently, and we would not be raising tuition fees. The problem is that both Labour and the Tories were intent on raising tuition fees, and so there was no mandate to push through our policy to abolish tuition fees over 6 years in negotiations with both parties about forming a coalition Government. Under our electoral system you can only vote for a candidate in a particular seat. But at the same time you can also argue that the electorate did not vote to abolish tuition  fees – 66% of the electorate voted for parties committed to increase tuition fees.

Labour’s opposition is opportunistic, and anybody who thinks that they would not have increased tuition fees if they were still in Government is being very naive or is a member of the Labour Party! To make matters worse, Labour don’t have an alternative. Despite Ed Miliband supporting a graduate tax, this is not their policy and Alan Johnson (the Shadow Chancellor) is completely opposed to it. A graduate tax could end up being MORE expensive for graduates than an increase in fees, and it would certainly mean many students paying back more money.

12 responses to “Tuition fees Debate

  1. I am very glad to see that once again you’re doing a good job of keeping your promises to your constituents while still getting across the more nuanced aspects of being in a coalition with a party we have little in common with.

  2. Your take on the electorate not voting in support of a party that would abolish fees is an interesting one. I’d support the abolition of fees, but the money has to come from somewhere and nobody else seems keen to give up something or to pay more tax. I think therefore your stance is correct.

    I’d like to hear more from you on government policy, party policy and also on your personal stance in either blog posts or more frequent tweets.

  3. Immensely proud of you John. I’ve watched your speech in full and couldn’t agree more.

    I still can’t work out the Labour intervention – she seemed to be complaining about leaflets, but not sure why!

    I must say I was very disappointed in the deputy speaker, as it was difficult to hear you at times above the very rude heckling from Labour. Did you catch what they were moaning about?

  4. I felt betrayed by Nick Clegg but I feel proud by watching your speech and knowing you voting against it. Good Luck 🙂

    Farhad – Student resident in South Manchester

  5. Hi John,

    Thanks very much for making your position clear. Thanks also for pointing out that there are good points to these proposals; even if you and I don’t believe that they make up for the bad points, people are owed an informed debate where they can make up their own minds, rather than the lies and half-truths being spread by the NUS and others.


  6. “The Liberal Democrats are being accused of breaking our promises over tuition fees. ”

    You (The Liberal Democrat Party collectively) HAVE broken your promises over tuition fees. It is disingenuous of you (as an individual) to claim otherwise.

    If, as you say, you disagree and vote against this, will this not make your position within the Liberal Democrat Party untenable?

  7. Pingback: Will any Libdems rebel on tuition fees vote? Here’s a list | Liberal Conspiracy·

  8. I find myself torn on this debate, whilst I don’t want any future student priced out of higher education, I know all to well the dire consequences of the proposed HE funding cuts. Something must be done to secure funding and preserve the quality of our HE instituions but I am unsure £9000 fees are justifiable.

    What all at Lib Dem HQ need to realise is we, the voters, are appalled by the about turn by some members on this key policy. If the manifesto had stated from the start an increase was needed, and proposed a better way of funding and spending the funds, we would have probably voted Lib Dem anyway.

    I personally feel betrayed, so thank you to John Leech and the others who are upholding their principles by refusing to back down and be bullied into voting this rise through. Open and honest debate is needed to ensure the continued quality and availability of Higher Education in the UK. These students are OUR future, and we should be protecting their education.

    I fully support John in his stand against the rise in tutition fees, and for speaking his mind on this issue. He is a shining example of what ALL Lib Dem MPs should be.

  9. We’ll be watching to make sure that, unlike your party leader, you don’t break your promise. Shame on Clegg and Cable.

  10. And how many people who voted for you thought they were voting for a cut of 1378 police officers in Greater Manchester when they placed their cross on the ballot paper in May.

  11. The problem I see with your stance is quite simple. No evidence was presented to the Browne review panel that supports your claim that an increase in fees would result in lower numbers of students from less well off backgrounds taking up university places. In fact, to the contrary, evidence was presented to support an argument that there was no change in such numbers when Labour introduced fees in the first place. Surely a move from no debt to some debt would have a larger impact than from some debt to more debt!

    That fact that there is no robust research to base such a view on suggests that the conclusion of the Browne report was spot on. If increased debt really is a detraction then why has it not been possible to show this through accepted evidential means?

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