Party’s policy committee agrees to axe tuition fees

From an email from Nick Clegg:

This week the Party’s federal policy committee agreed a way to deliver one of our most important policies, the scrapping of unfair tuition fees. We’ve developed a plan to phase out tuition fees over the course of the next six years, to ensure this vital policy is affordable even at this time of economic crisis.

Labour and the Conservatives refuse to address the issue of fees and there is a real danger that both of them would lift the cap on fees which could mean even more debt for students when they leave university. We think that is wrong and our policy will prevent it happening.

It’s simply wrong to penalise people who want to make the best of themselves by saddling them with enormous mortgage-style debts from the day they graduate – especially when we know the root of the current economic crisis was too much debt. And it’s clear that people from disadvantaged backgrounds are far more likely to be put off going to university if it costs them tens of thousands of pounds. In a fair society, university admissions should be based on your grades and intelligence, not the wealth of your parents. You should decide whether going to university makes sense for you – and you shouldn’t have to make the decision based on your bank balance.

We were right to oppose tuition fees from day one, and have been right to continue to oppose any lifting of the cap on the limit of fees. The government has been obsessed with artificial targets for how many people should go to university, while putting barriers in their way in the shape of fees. My priority is making degrees affordable, and that means scrapping these unfair fees, including for those who study part-time. This is vital, because it tends to be older or poorer students who can’t afford a full-time degree, but under current rules they have to pay up-front, while everyone else is allowed to defer their payments.

Of course, at a time of economic crisis, when the government has got the public finances into a mess, it is extremely important to be responsible about making a big financial commitment like this. Students want to be treated like grown ups; they know money doesn’t grow on trees and that big spending committments like this are only affordable over time. That’s why we have agreed together to lay out a financially responsible timetable to scrap fees, step by step, over the six years after the General Election.

Final year tuition fees will be the first to go. Too many people drop out, often put off by the huge costs. We’ll make it easier to stay on, because no student will pay any fees to complete their degree. In 2011, we’ll get help to part-time students, regulating the fees they pay (a vital step towards abolishing them). In 2012, part-time students will be able to access the same loans as full-time students. In 2013, we’ll extend free tuition to second year students. In 2014, we’ll extend that same free tuition to part time students. And in 2015, as the public finances are recovering, we will be able to afford to abolish all remaining fees.

Labour’s recession has made it more difficult to find the money to fund our priorities. That’s why we are right to adapt our plans for big spending commitments and why it is right that our General Election manifesto will focus this time on a smaller number of key commitments. But our message to students is clear: we remain the only party that believes fees are unfair, and the only party with a plan to get rid of them for good.

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20 Comments

  • Mark Wright 18th Dec '09 - 2:51pm

    Excellent! The right choice :)

    This will give future students the same opportunities and chances that so many of us enjoyed.

  • Andrew Suffield 18th Dec '09 - 3:05pm

    Makes sense to me. The old “scrap the lot at once” policy isn’t possible any more, but this one looks workable.

  • Norman Lamb 4 Leader 18th Dec '09 - 3:07pm

    Good idea but then how will the LD’s fund universities in the future?

  • So how will univs be funded? Or is the LD policy to slash to quantity of tuition – mickey mouse degrees for all?

    As it stands this policy is as sensible as the old soviet trick of cutting the price of bread – how will you pay for it?

  • I assume Tim that instead of students paying money to the Universities the state will.

    If that wasn’t the case then scrapping them wouldn’t cost anything!

  • This won’t gain any votes, because students will only care about what fees they have to pay in the immediate future.

  • Stanley Theed 18th Dec '09 - 6:43pm

    I do not know if it will gain us votes, but it is the right thing to do and that is what matters. Either way I suspect that the numbers going to university will diminish.

  • Hywel (and any others who may know more details)

    That there is a cost means that the state will replace some of the money, it does not show that it will replace all of it. Has the party confirmed that it will replace all of the money? (The website does not say) Or are univs going to see cuts to some extent? (This is not difficult for us to cope with at one level – we can just raise class sizes until the “quality” fits within the budget, but I prefer to teach students, than pretend to teach them).

    Equally, the govt has set up a fees review that is widely expected to deliver more money for univs via higher fees. Presumably the LDs would scrap this, and so univs would get less money under the LDs than under either other party.

    So the LD position is that future students will get a worse education but pay less. That is a defensible policy – both Lidl and Ryanair are successful firms, after all.

    But what I suspect it would mean in practice is that Russell group univs would opt out altogether and go private (with very few scholarships, because we have low endowments, as per the MSc situation today) and the million plus group universities will offer courses whose quality is dictated by the (low) amount of money that the LDs would pay. I would regret that tremendously, because – unlike the fees and loans system – it means that you would have to be rich to go to a top university.

  • Tim’s right on what is likely to happen to the university sector. It is also worth noting, if you believe in a ‘progressive’ agenda, this is the opposite. Scrapping tuition fees overwhelmingly benefits middle and upper income families.

    Disadvantaged families can get grants, and the repayment mechanism spreads and defers repayment to when it is affordable regardless of your parent’s income at the time you take the degree. Adjusting either of those elements is a more targeted and cost-effective way to encourage low-income admissions than scrapping all fees.

    Also raised tax allowances help both low income families who then have more cash available to either spend or consider saving for their children’s future, recent graduates who can repay debt more quickly, and students who earn more from holiday jobs.

    If the UK then has (what the Times estimated today) as £12.5bn a year to spend should it go on scrapping fees or cutting income tax? Which actually helps students more? Which is more progressive?

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Dec '09 - 8:30am

    Tim Leunig


    I prefer to teach students, than pretend to teach them.

    So do I, which is why I support this policy. At the moment I pretend to teach many of them, because the funding situation means they fit their study in around part-time (or on some case full-time) work. What I am able to teach is seriously compromised by the fact that many students can’t put in the work commitment required to their degree due to all the time they are spending doing menial jobs to try and get by financially.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Dec '09 - 8:39am

    Tim Leunig


    So how will univs be funded? Or is the LD policy to slash to quantity of tuition – mickey mouse degrees for all?

    What the top universities won’t tell you is that they aren’t asking for this money to do teaching. They are asking for it to do research. Sure, the fact that students are taught by active researchers is good, but the current finance mechanism for universities is so skewed that research is the only things that really counts. It is the only thing that gets you promotion as a university lecturer. It is the only thing that gets a university recognised amonngst those who count as a “top university”. And, so the academics reckon and they are right, do the research and so get seen as a “top university”, and you will attract the top students, and being bright they can largely teach themselves.

    I’m not at all opposed to universities doing research, but one way we can cut costs and improve degeree quality is to investigate just how much of the current funding mechanism is causing too much effort to be spent on not-very-useful research.

  • In answer to Matthew
    -Top univs (to use Matthew’s terminology – not a term I would choose) exist primarily for research. We have never hidden that.
    -It is not correct to say that research is the only thing that is counted in deciding what is a top univ. Look at any of the league tables – they include teaching, employment, facilities, etc, as well as research.
    -This is about all univs: undergrad fee income in more important for mainstream univs, rather than Russell Group univs. They are the univs that will suffer, and they are the ones that are going to have to cut the quality of tuition. For the majority of univs, teaching income exceeds research income.
    -Since we are not recreating maintenance grants sufficient to live on, students are still going to be working in term-time

  • Good news

    @Tim no reason Unis will have to cut quality. What they might have to do is cut places given IMHO we currently have too many people going to Uni so devaluing degree qualifications.

    I know for a fact that currently universities (not academics) don’t give a crap about teaching quality as they get paid regardless, They are only assessed on Reasearch quality and the funding difference between getting a good research rating and a poor one from HEFCE is massive.

  • Andrew Suffield 20th Dec '09 - 3:16am

    Presumably the LDs would scrap this, and so univs would get less money under the LDs than under either other party.

    The other parties have been cutting direct funding to research, which is far more money than tuition, so I wouldn’t bet on that being the case.

    While there are no firm plans at present, I would expect an LD government to increase research funding (and tackle some of the current problems with how it is awarded). But that sort of thing is too subtle for pre-election planning.

    It is most assuredly true that the other parties plans are to give universities more money for tuition. Their plans for doing this are simple: students will simultaneously work and study in order to give the universities this money. I don’t think that this will be improving the quality of their education.

  • Peter – whatever you may claim to “know as a fact” is not my experience. My univ has just spend £ms cutting class sizes, as well as >£250k a year on copyright permission to scan articles, plus a big chunk of money on technology to record lectures for students. All of this was led from the top.

    We could cut the number of people going to univ. Then the returns to univ education would go up – that is, people who are already relatively well off would get richer. I want to reduce inequality, not increase it, so I don’t support that plan.
    Furthermore, cutting univ places (assuming we continue to allocate places by A level grades) will make univs even less open to people from poorer backgrounds – people with top A level grades are disproportionately from fee paying schools. Again, I see that as undesirable.

    Andrew – the vast majority of univ students are at “newer” univs, for which funds for teaching greatly outweigh funds for research. You can check the figures. In fact, The Times Higher reports that only 48 UK univs received Research Selectivity funding this time (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=405690&c=1), and some of those only received trivial amounts – London Met’s RAE funding amounts to £100 per student (and that is much higher than in recent years). Fee income matters to these students.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Dec '09 - 1:01am

    Tim in reply to me


    -Top univs (to use Matthew’s terminology – not a term I would choose) exist primarily for research. We have never hidden that.

    It’s not a term I would particularly choose, but it’s one most people would understand, rather than say “Russell group”. While you say these universities have not hidden that, which of course is true, the debate on tuition fees- including what you have written – is almost always put in a way which makes it seem as if universities exist only to do teaching. I feel this it is dishonest to put it in this way when, as you say, teaching is considered only a secondary purpose for these universities, and they see it as a way of raising money to assist them in their primary purpose. Most people who don’t actually work in academia are almost completely unaware that universities, particularly “top” ones, consider research to be their primary aim. I work as a lecturer in a research-active university, but this week, as usual at this time of the year, I have had countless conversation with people who ask me “have you finished work yet?” and “when do you start again?” based on the assumption that when the students are on vacation, so am I. I find most people I talk with are astonished when I tell them that actually when the students are away I spend my time doing research. They didn’t have a clue that my job might involve that, and even when I carefully explain it they tend to think I mean research oriented around developing new teaching material.


    -It is not correct to say that research is the only thing that is counted in deciding what is a top univ. Look at any of the league tables – they include teaching, employment, facilities, etc, as well as research.

    You will find the order in the league tables very closely corresponds to research activity. Many of these other factors are also heavily influenced by research. For example, staff-student ratios are much more generous when the staff are heavily research-oriented so there are more of them than in a teaching-oriented university albeit not spending nearly so much time teaching.


    This is about all univs: undergrad fee income in more important for mainstream univs, rather than Russell Group univs. They are the univs that will suffer, and they are the ones that are going to have to cut the quality of tuition. For the majority of univs, teaching income exceeds research income.

    It is the Russell grouop universities which are making the most noise about this issue.


    Since we are not recreating maintenance grants sufficient to live on, students are still going to be working in term-time

    I raise this as a factual issue – I have myself observed the fall in student support leading to the rise in the numbers of students who fit their degree study around paid employment, leading to the decline in what can be taught in the degree.

    I accept, of course, that there are trade-offs here. But I feel what you wrote is one-sided and dishonest, in the way it refuses to acknowledge the damage to degree quality caused by students ghaving to spend so much time doing menial work to pay their bills, and in the way you hide the fact – in your comments on these issues – that universities, particularly the ones you talk about, are more about research than teaching.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Dec '09 - 1:11am

    Tim


    Andrew – the vast majority of univ students are at “newer” univs, for which funds for teaching greatly outweigh funds for research.

    These universities, however, will wish to improve their status and their funding by increasing their research standing. They know that getting higher research ratings is the only way to climb up and gain more respect. Therefore, even if they do get more funding for teaching, they will be pushing their staff to spened as much tinme as possible on research.

    This will become more intense if there is a push to restrict research funding to a small number of universities. Those in the middle will work frantically to try and get into that elite. They know that improving teaching quality counts for little, because most students when choosing between universities do so on a crude “university X is better than university Y” basis, which (though they don’t realise it) is a ranking driven primarily by research reputation.

  • Andrew Suffield 21st Dec '09 - 2:53pm

    I’ll admit to being an Imperial graduate, and considering research as the primary function of universities.

    http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=405690&c=1

    This is just one of many sources of research funding – HECFE, which is primarily responsible for teaching funding. Unsurprisingly, their figures show that they spend more on teaching than research; they are the “Higher >i>Education Funding Council”.

    I am not aware of any collated analysis of all UK government research spending, because it’s widely dispersed between government departments. What you’re looking at here is the £1.5bn carved out of the education budget, but there’s a lot more government spending on research than just that, much of which goes to the universities. There’s another £2.5bn via the research councils, to start with, and then you have to account for things like the bits in the defence (£0.5bn) and health budgets, and goodness only knows how many other places.

    In fact, The Times Higher reports that only 48 UK univs received Research Selectivity funding this time

    I do not know what “Research Selectivity funding” is supposed to mean. The linked article does not discuss it. Nor does it say that only 48 universities received anything. What it does say is that 90% of the research funding was distributed between 48 universities. This is unsurprising, as they are the largest ones. While I have not worked the numbers to get an exact figure, looking them over it is immediately obvious that a similar distribution exists for teaching funding, so all this says is that “most of the money goes to the top 35% of universities”. That’s not really relevant.

    London Met’s RAE funding amounts to £100 per student

    That’s one of the ex-polytechnics. Since they don’t really do research, this is also unsurprising, and it is quite unfair to divide their research funding by the number of students. The £3.5m they receive probably only covers their doctoral programme. There were 35 polytechnics initially; now there are less due to mergers. I would be willing to consider the possibility of special funding measures for polytechnics, however I am not aware of them having issues which need addressing. In any event, they are not representative.

  • so the students will get into uni for free and later pay it back as tax,right?
    what happens if the student leaves the country, will he still have to pay?

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