I was never mad at the Lib Dems and you shouldn’t be either

Going through my final exams during a general election was heart breaking. I wanted to canvass and I wanted to write, but the only thing I seemed to have time to get involved in were political debates with friends and family, and it always came back the same comment: If you’re a student, why would you vote for the Lib Dems?

I remember the day that Nick Clegg supposedly betrayed his younger voters well. I was studying for my GCSEs when a BBC news reporter announced that a video of Nick Clegg apologising had gone viral on the internet and, although I was planning on sending off a UCAS application in a couple of years, I wasn’t angry at the Lib Dems. Yet it seems that many still are.

Going to university isn’t a right granted to us when we are born and it would be unfair to expect those who haven’t attended to fund a student’s education, when they themselves could be paying taxes to the government and improve the quality of our public services. Unfortunately, not every career allows people to work their way up and requires a degree, but if that is the type of career we want, then it is fair that we take out a loan to fund ourselves and repay it when we have the funds to do so. The reason for this? Social mobility.

By paying for our own education, it means that the government does not need to worry about funding over two million students through university and focus solely on investing in compulsory education, namely primary, secondary and further. By having more funds for compulsory education, it means that every child has the opportunity to go to a good quality school and potentially get the grades to study at university, then take out a loan to fund their studies, even if their parents weren’t able to fund that. This means that a child, who is technically living in poverty, can one day study to become a doctor, because they have the means to access this opportunity.

Of course, the course fees are still incredibly high, but it’s important to remember that it is up to the university how to distribute their resources and, whilst history may be a cheaper course to run, medical students may need more funding so we can get the best quality doctors and health treatment late in life. Not only that, but more funding gives the university more money to build new buildings, buy the latest academic textbooks or open new departments. These fees are not only benefitting students now, but future students, as well as the future surgeons, nurses and leaders of the world.

It seems that there has been a lot of hatred towards Nick Clegg in recent years, but, as a child who got free school lunches, I know that I would never have gone to university if it weren’t for the option of taking out a loan.


* Anna Pitcher has recently finished her studies in German and Economics at the University of Sheffield. She is a member of the Liberal Democrats.

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  • This is a good argument against forcing students to fund their degrees upfront, except as I understand it no political party is calling for that to happen.

  • Tony Dawson 12th Jun '17 - 5:36pm

    The Tuition fees issue, while important to students (my daughter has a large student loan which would have been bigger without scholarships) was only a secondary problem. It didn’t matter what the issue had been that we flip-flopped over, it was THIS


    which did so much damage. The apparent cynicism of a Party which put out it’s ISP as “keeping to promises” still sticks in the gullet of electors.

    PS I largely paid for my own honours degree (fees & maintenance) ‘up front’ and finished it off by working a full-time job during my final year.

  • Paul Pettinger 12th Jun '17 - 6:43pm

    about as politically helpful as encouraging the Tories to defend the Poll Tax and Labour the second Iraq War

  • Anna Pitcher 12th Jun '17 - 7:07pm

    Hi Andrew,
    I don’t think that this suggested paying upfront. The loans allow students to be socially mobile by taking the loan out and repaying the debt at a later date. This allows every student to have the opportunity to take a loan out no matter what their background.

  • Andrew McCaig 12th Jun '17 - 7:07pm

    Graduate tax is the fairest and most progressive option..

    I work for a University but our students pay higher fees than the University of California.. That is not right…

  • I would like to see the Lib Dems take the “we’re all in this together” line and make it work in practice rather than the abuse of it seen under Cameron and attempted to be corrected under May’s red toryism. If we argue that “we’re all in this together” then students are a section of society who can pay and therefore should pay, although any increase should have been to £4,500 (or a figure with evidence behind it to state its relative fairness rather than my estimate at one) with half the additional amount being used to help poorer students into University and helping Uni’s and/or local councils challenge dodgy landlords/energy companies preying on students.

  • Peter Martin 12th Jun '17 - 8:17pm

    @ Anna,

    “…………… it would be unfair to expect those who haven’t attended to fund a student’s education…”

    But would it? If a student takes out a loan and then repays it over the course of their working life it’s really just the same as them getting their education for free and then paying higher taxes afterwards. OK there’s a slight complication if we recruit graduates from overseas and we lose a few of our own graduates but maybe that should balance out in any case.

    So a graduate then pays higher taxes because they are earning more. But there will be plenty of non graduates who are earning more too. Partly their prosperity will be attributable to the level of education in the workforce. There’ll be plenty of older graduates who, like me, got their education for free.

    So you’re saying it’s not fair to tax me more to help pay for the education of younger people?

    Well that’s very nice of you but I have to disagree!

    Having said all that, thinking of central taxation in the sense that it is used to pay for things isn’t quite right. It is used to establish a value for the currency and prevent inflation! Central Govt spending doesn’t have to equal its revenue and, in fact, rarely does.

  • @Anna Pritcher

    What I meant is the article appears to extol the virtues of student loans, saying they promote social mobility. That is okay but it would almost suggest the Lib Dems brought them in which they did not. It would also suggest some major party wants to get rid of them but they do not.

    The “betrayal” by Nick Clegg and other MPs was reneging on an election pledge to vote against any rise in tuition fees. When someone publicly promises to do one thing and then does the opposite that actually is a bit of a betrayal wouldn’t you say?

    You can argue that Higher Education isn’t a right and that undergraduates should pay for their tuition. Unfortunately you then show one of the problems with the system where the fees are in no way related to the cost of the degrees themselves. So a history student should be happy to subsidise students taking more expensive courses? Then there is the problem that the government changed the interest rates on the loans from being RPI to RPI+3% which means for many students their debts will balloon out of control and they will be paying them off until eventually they are written off.

    It used to be the case that Higher Education was incentivised because graduates earned more which meant they paid disproportionately more income tax due to progressive taxation and therefore paid for their degrees while it was agreed that in order for the economy to grow, the skills of the workforce had to be maximised. This would leave the less skilled work for those who were less naturally gifted.

    As things stand there is a real danger that graduates who worked hard at school and university will be no better off than people who left school at 16 to take up unskilled work. In fact the only way to be well off is to have parents who bought property in London or the South East when it was affordable.

    @Andrew Craig

    The graduate tax is still flawed as you are essentially selling shares in your future earnings based on a decision you take as a teenager. This isn’t a very liberal proposition. It also means you can avoid paying by taking your work elsewhere.

  • Don’t forget the 2010 Browne Report. Labour’s passing of the buck to an independent enquiry which the coalition inherited and who recommended unlimited fees. Vince Cable wanted a graduate tax in response but the Tories vetoed that and Labour (then in opposition) said nothing until 2015. Having introduced tuition fees and raising them continually it is disengenuous to pretend they would not have gone up substantially if Labour had won in 2010. The Lib Dem problem was signing up to a full coalition having made such a pledge and leaving itself with having to accept the reports recommendation to raise fees, or to break the coalition deal. Having done that, sailing sorry was always going to be insufficient! In that scenario sorry had to be scraping fees just like Labour’s belated 2017 sorry for introducing them in the first place, sorry!

  • Firstly Anna your article raises some interesting arguments which certainly give food for thought.
    The big challenge for the Lib Dems now though is the one you highlighted so well yourself above
    “……….political debates with friends and family, and it always came back the same comment: If you’re a student, why would you vote for the Lib Dems?”

    The Lib Dems are a VALUE based party (unlike the other 2).
    That means that to vote for it, voters need to feel that it is a ‘safe option’, that they can trust that their values are in safe hands.
    That they can rely on it without much prospect of disappointment.

    So, the main issue is one of regaining TRUST now, with a target group of people (open and tolerant members of the electorate) for whom trust is a core, if not their main value!

    It makes the task of building a core vote of these sections of the electorate much more difficult, because of the ‘value based’ offering that is the party stands for.

    Loyalty (and betrayal) is a much more important as core value for the people likely to vote Lib Dem.

    Also, because tuition fees and “no more broken promises” were the whole cornerstone of Nick’s offering to the electorate in 2010, the betrayal was very very public and humiliating.

    If you google Nick Clegg “no more broken promises” and watch the election broadcast that he based his whole campaign on, it would be difficult to argue I think?

    On a positive note, I like what I know of Nick, he is without equal regarding Europe, the country needs is experience and advice and I hope he will play a big consultancy role for the UK going forward. His country definitely needs his talents, insight and knowledge.

  • Bill le Breton 13th Jun '17 - 5:29am

    Good luck with your finals and good luck with the rest of your life.

    If you are anything like my son you will have amassed loans of circa £45,000 and by this time next year that figure will have risen with interest of 6.1% to £47,745. It may take you a year to find a job and a couple more to get to a salary of over £21,000, by which time that loan has risen to £53,747. If by then you are earning £22,500 your loan will have increase to circa £56,700 having paid back a small amount but not enough to even cover the interest for that year. Recent evidence suggests that people with a degree like yours may plateau at £31,000 a year. You will be chipping away at the capital owed by £900 a year while the capital is rising by may times more that that. The capital you notionally owe is going to be huge.

    This is bound to affect your ability to take out loans for other needs including housing. True, you may well reach the age of 52 by which the outstanding loan will we dissolved, but for those thirty years this weight will be round your neck.

    An unintended result of this is that you may develop – may – a real self-help attitude to all things in like. Why should you vote for a Party in the future that wants to raise taxes when you have had to shoulder this burden for much of your working life. You may lose your sense of public and community generosity.

    And besides, our greatest economic competitor, Germany, and their regions have very low University fees and are generally getting rid of these.

    We want highly educated people,as many as possible. We want them to be able to leave home to do their degrees and begin to see how others live, not just on a campus but in the cities they study in and come to love.

    It was a broken promise affecting the recognised life blood of our Party – crass politics and poor social policy. Education should come from general taxation. It is a social good from which everyone benefits.

  • Ed Shepherd 13th Jun '17 - 7:53am

    Education is a fundamental human right. Lifelong education should be free at the point of delivery and funded by a progressive taxation system not by personal loans. It is not just the individual who benefits from education. Society benefits from having an educated population. Lets those who disagree with this treat their own injuries, conduct their own legal cases, extract their own teeth, grow their own food, create their own medicines and build their own TV sets/mobile phones/computer games etc. Any politician advocating student loans should be made to pay back the cost of the education that they happily and uncomplainingly received when they were young. The UK can well afford to pay for lifelong education from progressive taxation. It cannot afford not to. Most other EU countries manage to run such a system and so could we if more politicians had more courage.

  • Clive Simpson 13th Jun '17 - 8:11am

    Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto showed that a quarter of his spending would go on abolishing tuition fees, with less money going to the NHS and social care combined. This is not equitable or sensible and I was glad to see the Lib Dems abandon the issue of tuition fees in their manifesto.

    If you make the argument that all lifelong education should be funded by taxation, then poorer people would end up paying for CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to do MBAs. Again, this is not equitable or sensible. Eventually, you have to draw a line at the provision of free stuff, or you either run out of money or you run out of free stuff.

  • Anna what an excellent piece. I agree with all
    you say here. I would like to see tuition fees written off for those who go into teaching and for the Tories decision to charge tuition fees for nursing to be reversed. There is also the question of whether we need so many University courses as some clearly have a higher employment rate post graduation than others.

  • Andrew McCaig 13th Jun '17 - 8:26am

    As Bill says, the big problem with the present system is the size of the personal debt, coupled with what is now a high rate of interest. This hangs over people for decades and whenever they see a 9% repayment in their payslip people are thinking of us (not even the Tories!), so effective is the Labour publicity machine.
    If we are to survive as a political Party we have to Lance this boil, because it is getting worse for us, not better, and complacency has ruled for two elections now.
    However, we need a way to do that without losing face. Graduate tax is that way because it maintains an understandable link between benefitting from university and paying for it. I would set it at no more than 2%, but for life, and on all tax bands, and personally I would make all graduates from before the fees era pay it from now on. People with loans now would have the option to have them cancelled and move onto it.
    There are of course many complications and disadvantages of this system, but it is fair and would wipe out large chunks of debt. Fairer than the Labour proposal to make poor people pay for richer people going to university. Quite frankly, implementation of any policy is the least of our worries these days!
    We should also cut all interest on living cost loans to inflation rate, and bring back grants for the poorest students

  • John Barrett 13th Jun '17 - 10:24am

    Now that things have moved on from the tuition fees debate and the Lib-Dem part in it, much of the discussion is on the size of debt students now have. It is worth considering just what the actual cost to students was many years ago, compared to now.

    It is often said that students then had grants then, as I had in the mid 70’s, and now they have debts, so the argument usually goes that – obviously todays students are much worse off.

    The other factor that is rarely mentioned is the rate of income tax those who graduated many years ago, or non graduates with higher incomes, paid on their earnings. If you accept that graduates generally earn more than non graduates, it is worth looking at the impact of this over time.

    In the mid 70s basic rate tax was 35% with 10 different rates of income tax in those days, going up to 83% on incomes above £20,000, plus a 98% band for investment income, compared to now with a basic rate of 20% tax.

    Accepting that lower paid students will not now repay their loan, if they remain below the threshold for repayment and that few graduates would have paid the highest rates of tax back then, the tax take from students of my era (the 70’s) after graduation, is probably as high, if not higher, than those with student debts and a much lower rate of tax they pay today.

    As students repaying their loans pay 9% over the income threshold. this would mean that their total “tax rate” is 29%” which is still lower that the basic rate back in the day of much higher tax rates.

    Someone with time on their hands might like to do comparable calculations.

  • Andrew McCaig 13th Jun '17 - 12:10pm

    John Barrett,

    I think you make an excellent argument for raising tax rates on those in our generation that enjoyed BOTH free university education AND low taxes during our higher earning years. The other thing you need to factor in is the high inflation during those high tax years that effectively removed much of my mortgage debt (for example)

    I have certainly had it very good compared to my 30 year old children…

  • I would like to see graduate tax for UK students at the heart of a LibDem manifesto. It would be more equitable for those who have benefited from higher education to pay it forward for the next generation, than Labour’s £11bn funding from general taxation. And it would stop profiteering by private funds on student debt, hikes in fees and interest rates, and generations being saddled with debt in punishment for aspiration.
    LibDems lost out in this election by failing to present a strong enough policy for students and letting Labour (who had introduced tuition fees in the first place) set the agenda.
    We could offer a fairer solution, and we must if believe in being on the side of young people and if we want them back on our side – I can’t understand why we didn’t.

  • Peter Martin 13th Jun '17 - 12:38pm

    @ John Barrett,

    Its difficult to do the calculations you ask. We’d need to take into account that VAT was at one time 10% whereas it’s now 20%.

    The real point is that we have a GDP which is now about 3 times what it was in the mid 70’s. Then the promise, from right wing politicians, was that if the size of the cake increased then everyone would have a bigger piece. Student grants that were meagre then would be more generous and more affordable now.

    Except it hasn’t worked out like that!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Jun '17 - 1:38pm

    Anna , what a lovely person you are ! I get so irritated by the constant drip of negativity about people in the coalition. Nick was the leader of our party but never had a dictatorial way about him, the so called big beasts were all involved, and other smaller beasts , so it is all beastly ! Which is why lovely is a real antidote !

    I believe we do badly because we are too negative. We do well as and when we are positive. We can be scathing in criticism without being emotional in our stance and language too readily. Save the big blows for the biggest issues.

    Tuition fees was never the big issue it became. It was a daft pledge and a really daft move voting for them not abstaining.

    What is needed now is the sort of attitude Anna shows here, built on. I am very impressed with the openminded realism and measured idealism of the Young Liberals.

    There are many young liberals out there.

    There are also Democrats and democrats. Democracy is as important and more able to be understood and supported than any aspect of political discourse .We lack it . Our electoral system is a joke. Young people know it. Labour offer more of the same on the whole. They entrench their power too often. We need to change those attitudes and young people are our allies .

  • Mike Barnes 13th Jun '17 - 5:52pm

    No tuition fees up front, progressive taxation later. Not really seeing a problem, those who get the best degrees and earn the most are going to be paying the most, for life.

    As it is, rich families can pay off the fees up front, their kids are done with the system, while the poor are tapped in repayments for decades.

    Oh and remember this lie was sold that £6000 would the the new limit, and £9000 would only be allowed in ‘exceptional circumstances’. Every university in the country is exceptional, amazing achievment!


  • Angry Steve 13th Jun '17 - 7:30pm

    @Mike Barnes
    “Oh and remember this lie was sold that £6000 would the the new limit, and £9000 would only be allowed in ‘exceptional circumstances’.”

    Yes, and there were going to be penalties for those who paid up front to avoid the interest charges and the repayment threshold was going to rise with inflation…

    There will be 2 million more angry graduates by 2022. 18 years olds don’t understand finance – they were mis-sold tuition fees as being equivalent to a graduate tax and not affecting their mortgage applications. The trouble is that both of these arguments are complete baloney – high earners would pay much more with a graduate tax rather than simply paying off the loan and paying no more, and middle-income earners will have far less money in their pocket to service a mortgage and everything else. Tuition fees are massively regressive, as I’ve pointed out on this site repeatedly since 2010. It’s only when graduates start to get their first decent pay-cheques that they start looking at what they can do with their income long-term, e.g. mortgages, etc. That is when they are realising how much they’ve been squeezed.

    I used to think that a graduate tax would be a much fairer system, but my mind is swinging towards abolishing fees altogether. Miliband’s attempts to mitigate the awful system failed to persuade anyone at the ballot box. Corbyn’s more radical plans did the trick.

    The largest increase in students going on to higher education (both Polys and Unis) occurred between 1998 and 1992 when the proportion of the age group doubled to around 35%. Thatcher and Major paid for this expansion using direct, progressive taxation. They were aware of how important an educated work-force is to a modern economy. Blair failed to increase the proportion to 50%, yet the right-wing knuckleheads seem to blame Blair for the increased numbers going on to HE, when in reality it was two Tory PMs that oversaw the largest expansion of HE.

  • Ed Shepherd 14th Jun '17 - 7:35am

    “If you make the argument that all lifelong education should be funded by taxation, then poorer people would end up paying for CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to do MBAs. Again, this is not equitable or sensible. Eventually, you have to draw a line at the provision of free stuff, or you either run out of money or you run out of free stuff.”

    Incorrect. Progressive taxation would mean that the CEO and his/her company pay high taxes that would fund the education of the CEO and fund the education of the poor person. The poor person would pay little tax and would have access to the education that they want and need.

  • Dave Orbison 14th Jun '17 - 11:45am

    Ed Shepherd- absolutely right!

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