Opinion: an open letter to MPs – say NO to Browne

The publication of the Browne report earlier this week has received a lot of backlash from the public but what angered me and many other members the most was the positive response it got from Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.

Although the report does contain some positive points, there are a few dangerous suggestions which threaten the futures of thousands of prospective students. One such suggestion was to get rid of the cap on fees. This will inevitably lead to many courses costing around £7,000 per year with some so-called ‘elite courses’ possibly costing up to £36,000 for three years.

This is unacceptable. I was under the impression that this government was trying to move towards a fairer system, allowing Higher Education to be accessible to all. Young adults are already being put off by the current prices of Higher Education.

How can they be expected to jump for joy at the prospect of having tens of thousands of pounds of debt forced on them before they have even bought their first home? This is just one of the issues that Lord Browne tried to avoid the morning of publication.

We all know that the review is merely a suggestion for how the government should approach this situation. Yet the fact that Nick and Vince seem to be jumping on the Browne bandwagon leads me to expect the worst. It would seem that they need reminding of the slogan we fought with during this year’s General Election – building a fairer Britain. This is why a group of us have got together to write an open letter to our MPs urging them to honour their pledge to fight higher fees. An abstention is NOT a no.

We are collecting signatures from you, the grassroots. Politics is not about a handful of people sitting around making decisions. Politics is about ordinary members, working together, fighting for a cause, telling the people they elected to represent them, what they want.

Free tuition has been in our manifesto for almost a decade now. Let’s not let Nick and Vince become Cameron’s puppets. The membership are not the ones who need prove who we are, but our MPs need to reassert their position in this coalition. We are a seperate party with seperate values. Let us not forget that.

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35 Comments

  • Ben Johnson 15th Oct '10 - 5:00pm

    “Young adults are already being put off by the current prices of Higher Education. ”

    This is stated so many times, but the evidence isn’t there. Since fees were paid by graduates, and not up front, there has been an increase in the numbers of poorer students attending university.

    I oppose tuition fees, but think the Browne Report would make the system fairer than it is now (not paying until £21000, higher earners paying more in interest, increased grants). It is a better compromise than I hoped for. Tuition fees have essentially been abolished for low earning graduates.

  • “Young adults are already being put off by the current prices of Higher Education. ”

    Why should it do that, when no one has to pay any fees upfront?

    As Ben says, the evidence contradicts what the moaners say. It’s not the poorer kids who are worried, and whose parents understand the importance of investing in the future, but the middle class parents who were used to getting it for free.

    In Scotland, where it is free, there have been fewer poor students going to uni. That suggests the barriers to entry are not financial.

  • DoctorSyntax 15th Oct '10 - 5:45pm

    The pledge made by all the Lib Dem MPs in the election was to vote against any increase in tuition fees (not just abstain from voting) and through this promise there were electoral gains. The promise did not have any qualification clauses about voting for an increase in tuition fees for some students but not others. Menzies Campbell has said that he will lose all credibility if he breaks his word, thereby letting us all know that those Lib Dem ministers and MPs who go back on their word will have lost all credibility. This will be remembered at the next election and beyond and will say something about the character of the MPs and ministers which goes way beyond the issue of the funding of higher education.

  • The idea that it is somehow acceptable to land people with £30-80K debts and then say ‘it’s ok, because you’ll never be able to pay it all back in your lifetime’ is absurd.

    THe Browne report is NOT progressive, but regressive. He suggests unpegging interest rates from inflation. That would mean that rich people would be paying less for their degrees over their lifetime than poor people.

    And Vince’s laugable argument against… FORCE richer people to remain in debt/… deeply illiberal and unworkable.

    For all intents and purposes this is a graduate tax, since the goverment is relying on some people neve rbeing able to pay back their loans (therefore not paying as much for their course) whilst relying on richer people to pay back all their loans (thereby paying more for their course than others). It is a regressive graduate tax, in fact.

  • The problem is that the country cannot afford to pay for higher education out of taxes and the graduate tax is inherently unfair and also does not solve the funding problem right now.

    What is the solution – it seems fair that student pay for the benefits they get from Higher Education, and the progressive approach that raises the threshold for repayment and gives help to the lowest incomes seems the best option. Actually, it is probably the worst option, except for all the others (with apologies to Churchill).

  • @Ben You cannot judge the impact by past numbers alone. We will be pricing out many students from an opportunity to have access to a university education. It’s nit juts that there will be one hike either, fees will continue to rise. With each hike students from poorer backgrounds would be able to take on such debt. The reassurance that it only kicks in when you earn £21k is as laughable as it is naive. How will they be able to support their family, housing costs and pensions at £21k let alone pay off debt? The LibDem MP’s need to get real.

    What is the point of announcing today funds to give kids a start in their education whilst at the same time slamming the door in their face re HE? Shame on the lot of them.

  • Grammar Police 15th Oct '10 - 7:11pm

    @ DoctorSyntax “through this promise there were electoral gains” – I don’t support increasing fees, but this statement is either unprovable or untrue!

  • @orbyuk. Can you explain how you would fund Higher Education?

  • @Ian: Raise Corporation tax and NI for employers whoa lso benefit from graduates. Scrap trident; implement a Mansion Tax – these sound familiar; invest in HMRC (not cut tax collecting employees) so evasion is better dealt with and yes, a step to far for all parties, raise income tax. I benefited from free HE because the generation of tax payers paid for it. We tax payers of today will shaft the young by holding on to low taxes simply to preserve our spending power at their expense. In the end we all get what we pay for. Progressive taxation – and introduce a few progressive bands. Ian this is not a balanced budget just a few ideas. Here’s a another one for LibDem hierarchy: don’t promise what you can’t deliver or if you say you will oppose a rise in tuition fees do just that. The world would not end if those MP’s did as they promised.

    The state of the finances were public record BEFORE the election. It was Clegg that said the LibDems had a fully costed manifesto. I didn’t force him to say that or to make any of his promises. I was just gullible enough to be taken in and so excuse me if I am more than a little ticked off. Rather than prop up this Govt they could oppose. Of but of course the Tories and LibDems have the monopoly of working in the national interest. Really? Is that what this is?

  • @Blanco
    “As Ben says, the evidence contradicts what the moaners say. It’s not the poorer kids who are worried, and whose parents understand the importance of investing in the future, but the middle class parents who were used to getting it for free.”

    My children come under ‘the poorer kids’ They would not have gone to university with higher fees, The poorer you are the more you fear debt. My daughter wanted to go for PGCE but that has now changed.

  • @Blanco. So you would kill business growth through tax rises in order to pay for this? Seriously? And incentivise employers to not employ graduates?? Trident is a saving in years to come – not now so doesn’t count. The Mansion Tax will raise a fairly insignificant amount.

    None of these are realistic, sorry.

  • Doctor Syntax 15th Oct '10 - 9:16pm

    Yes Grammar Police. ‘electoral gain’ is an ambiguous expression and I am sorry that I used it. I did not mean it to say that extra seats had been gained because of the ‘signed pledge’ but that many students must have supported the Lib Dems because of their stance on tuition fees and had they known that Lib Dem MPs would renege on that promise, they would not have voted Lib Dem. You are quite correct – I can not prove this.

    What has surprised me is that the debates on this blog have centred almost exclusively around the various ways in which higher education can be funded. I agree this an important subject to debate but the issue of losing credibility after being photographed with a signed pledge which was broken, is to me an issue of morality and trust and is more important than the details of funding. All political parties make manifesto commitments, some of which they do not keep, and are in this sense dishonest but the Lib Dem pledge on tuition fees is the most blatant example and one which will bring lasting shame and damage to the party unless Lib Dem MPs and ministers keep to the promise that they made. They can only do this by voting against any increase – this is what they promised to do.

  • The notion that this would be a fairer system than we currently have because the threshold would be raised from £15k to £21k is misleading. The difference is that at the moment students have to pay back fees totaling approx £9k for a 3 year course but without the cap they will be paying between £18k and £36k. The threshold may be higher but then so is the size of the debt; and considerably so.

    Secondly I agree that this system would not dissaude those from a poorer background investing in their futures by applying to University, however it doesn’t necessarily follow that this will be fairer or that their won’t be a socio-economic divide. I teach in an inner London school and have asked my 4 sixth form classes about the Browne report this week. More than 75% of them said that whilst it would not deter them from applying to University it would however encourage them to apply to courses at those institutions that charge less. My fear is that by lifting the cap on fees there will be a two tier system for those of lower socio-economic backgrounds going to Universities of less repute and the higher end being the preserve of the rich, consequently exaccerbating the gap and reducing social mobility.

  • The problem is that a manifesto is what a party will do if they are able to form a majority government. When a coalition is formed then new policies which are acceptable to both a agreed. Happens the world over, and I do not how someone who supports full PR could ever get upset at the nature of coalition negotiations.

    Besides – is it right to push a policy through that is later seen to be unsustainable or to the detriment of wider interests? Or is it political maturity to say that the policy needs to change.

  • @blanco
    So your happy to send me £100 so long as you dont have to do it until you get a small pay rise. What then is all this nonsense about its Ok because the singers dont have to pay it back now.

    This was the same attitude you comdemn from the Labour government and yet you think it fine for students to drown themselves in debt . please explain your consistancy .
    @ben johnson
    You may or may not be right these fees may or may not have an effect on who goes to university. If they do not have an effect it is simply becuase a non graduate can not get a foot hold in society these days . Basically a young person is shafted with debt or saddled with a low paid job for life . So if you are right your argument still holds a amoral use of generational dumping to shift the debt burden squarely on young people and their life chances .

  • Grammar Police – Dr Syntax has made a very generous admission, that he / she cannot prove electoral gain through the tuition fee pledge. But it has almost certainly brought us extra votes (we can’t say whether we lost any) – so I think it’ syour turn to admit that whereas it can’t be proved, it is almost certainly so, and it frankly looks like arguing for the sake of it to make the statement you did.

  • Well the News being spun tonight is that that the schools budget won’t get cut so I’m prepared to chalk that up as a victory if true.The Education budget as whole is still being cut of course but at least schools aren’t going to get slaughtered.

    The problem is that Tuition Fees will still be a huge issue on the doorstep and a glaring example of Nick and those MPs who do not vote against the rise having lied to the voters.
    Mitigation and ‘pill sweeteners’ will only go so far and both the Conservatives and Labour will use breaking the Fees promise to rubbish any Liberal Democrats pledges at the next election. We know from past battles on the ground that the Conservatives will not hesitate to put out leaflets and fight dirty in a close marginal battle. So lets not pretend that being coalition partners now will mean they won’t go for the jugular at the next election.

    The bad News tonight is that Liam Fox’s posturing has paid dividends and the Military cuts are below 10%. It seems that ‘compromise’ in this coalition still only goes one way when it comes to the Conservatives favourite departments.

    Next weeks cuts could be absolutely lethal in all the other areas.

    Finally, here’s some intriguing polling for Nick and his Ministers to ponder.
    Yes, it has clear caveats and won’t be the last word, but I think it must also be a wake up call to those who think they can grimly hold on to the Conservatives hope for the best and everything will turn out fine because they are big names in a safe seat…

    Are Clegg and Huhne in trouble?

    Conservative Home has two new Constituency polls conducted by Populus for Michael Ashcorft and looking at the constituencies of Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne. Full tables are on Lord Ashcroft’s website here and here.

    Taking Eastleigh first, Chris Huhne’s seat is a Con/LD marginal. In 2005 it was an ultra-marginal with only 568 votes in it, in 2010 Chris Huhne extended his majority to 3864 (7%) – the shares of the vote were LD 47%, CON 39%, LAB 10%. Lord Ashcroft’s poll has currently voting intention in Eastleigh at CON 42%(+3), LAB 21%(+11), LDEM 31%(-16) – suggesting the Lib Dem vote collapsing towards Labour and letting the Conservatives through.

    Moving onto Sheffield Hallam, this is currently a pretty safe Lib Dem seat for Nick Clegg, with the Conservatives currently in a distant second place. The topline figures for general voting intention in the Populus poll are LDEM 33%(-20), LAB 31%(+15), CON 28%(+4): an even bigger collapse from the Lib Dems to Labour, but as Labour start off in third place Nick Clegg narrowly holds on.

    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/2834

  • Grammar Police 15th Oct '10 - 11:23pm

    @ Tim 13, I’m not sure of the logic behind that – you don’t get scientists saying “I’m going to believe this, as no one has proved it isn’t true”. But I suppose the nearest comparison is that Labour still got elected with a massive majority in 2001 despite introducing tuition fees in 1998, and then despite promising not to introduce top up fees in their 2001 manifesto, they did in 2004, and still won pretty convincingly in 2005 (and I think it’s fair to say Iraq had more of an effect on losing them votes in 2005 than top up fees).
    We only got 1% more in 2010 than we did in 2005, and only 2% more in 2001 than we did in 1997.

    @ Doctor Syntax – you’re spot on about the issue of credibility. I think the pledge is a good reason MPs should vote against increasing fees – they said they wouldn’t. In fairness, as many as 30 MPs have already said they’ll vote against or abstain. That said, manifesto pledges are made on the basis of forming the Government after the election, and implementing your programme. We don’t have that luxury. We have a coalition deal, and given the different priorities in that, it’s not surprising that the figures don’t add up. Clegg and Cable have not tried to claim that backing the Browne review is not going back on the NUS pledge. I actually think if the messaging had been more skillfully handled, there would be less fallout – especially with the fairness premium announcement today (eg “Because you don’t have a Lib Dem Government we can’t phase out tuition fees as we want, but we are removing/reducing them for the least well-off students, we’re also massively improving the repayment terms – the IFS has said it’s progressive – and increasing the repayment threshold. Plus, part-time students will no longer have to pay up front fees. In the mean time this might mean that better off students have to pay a bit more towards their tuition”).

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th Oct '10 - 11:29pm

    “The problem is that a manifesto is what a party will do if they are able to form a majority government. When a coalition is formed then new policies which are acceptable to both a agreed.”

    As has been pointed out umpteen times already, the pledge on tuition fees wasn’t part of the manifesto and had nothing to do with the Lib Dems being able to form a majority government.

    It was a simple, unconditional pledge that the MPs who signed it would vote against any attempt to increase tuition fees – whether in government, coalition, opposition, or standing on their heads at the North Pole.

    Obviously having made such a promise, they should honour it. As Ming Campbell has pointed out, no one who does otherwise will have any credibility with the electorate. The appropriate response to anything they say during a future election campaign will be “You’re a liar. Once you’re elected you’ll break your promises.”

  • Anthony Aloysius St 15th Oct '10 - 11:35pm

    “That said, manifesto pledges are made on the basis of forming the Government after the election, and implementing your programme.”

    How many times does it have to be explained? Surely you’ve got the point by now.

    THIS WASN’T A MANIFESTO PLEDGE. IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE LIB DEMS FORMING THE GOVERNMENT.

    After all, why the hell would they have had to vote against an increase in tuition fees if they were in government – considering the Lib Dem manifesto promised to abolish tuition fees? Just think about it!

  • every Lib Dem MP signed a pledge not to increase tuition fee’s simple, but hey it’s just another abandoned pledge why worry

  • The other day I quoted from our official website in another comment, not from our education policy as I didn’t think that would be rewritten quite so blatantly. I quoted from our shadow education secretary attacking the Browne report (pre election) as a stitch up between the Labour and the Tories.

    However today the Lib Dem *official* website policy on Education *has* been rewritten, outlining our *official* education position. It has completely removed our *party* commitment to scrapping tuition fee’s, making no mention of it whatsoever. “What we stand for – Education” is apparently not what “we” stand for but what Nick Clegg and Vince Cable stand for.

    Isn’t our offical party website supposed to reflect official *party* policy and not just what some in the parliamentary party want to wish into existance as party policy?

    Starting to feel like we’ve been kidnapped and that quite a few are begining to suffer from Stockholm syndrome.

    Can we still have a party that’s a bit more significant than UKIP at the next election, pretty please, with sugar on top.

    While some seem to be putting every egg into the basket of economic recovery with the Tories, in the deluded belief that this recession is just going to go away and that we’ll all be heroes along with the Tories when everythings coming up roses., those of us not wearing rose tinted glasses can see that this recession stands very little chance of being over by then, even if world wide conditions pick up a little it’s not going to be much consolation here, our recession will continue because we’re trying to cut our way out of it, overcut our way out of it,a lesson from History, you can’t cut your way out of a recession. We’re just helping the Tories make idealogical cuts, seemingly trying to turn us into America lite.

    Any sane country would have taken measures like increase higher rate taxation to help offset the cuts that have to be taken instead of inflicting much more sever cuts than need be, These cuts are idealogical, and they’re not *our* ideaology.

    Hundreds of thousands of people are going to be made redundant and the private sector that depends on the Goverment sector will be just as badly hit, but apparently forcing disabled and mentaly ill people onto lower incomes from their already low incomes is OK because it’s *incentive* to help them back into non existant jobs. The only people who are going to be unaffected by what’s been done in our name, apparently with our parliamentary support are the extremely rich, lucky for Nick and Vince that they’re both very rich and will probably be richer once they “move on” from the party into the private stratosphere.

    So pretty pretty please with double sugar on top, can we still have a party when this co-alition is over. Can we do things like stick to our promises and keep our credibility with the electorate. Can we have our party back when the big boys have stopped playing with it, hopefully with some of the limbs still attached and without the head filled with broken matches and set on fire (the last metaphor is probably a bit to personal, neighbours, 7 years old, Barbie, you know what I mean though)

  • I’ve seen figures banded around news sites which claim that graduates earn (on average) £100K more than non-graduates over the course of their working lives. This means that they also pay at least an extra £20K extra in Income Tax. That’s Roughly the cost of University Tuition.

    Before fees were introduced in 1998, graduates paid back their “loan” in this way, by paying a greater amount of tax over the course of their lives. Now with top-up fees at the current cap, graduates pay back an extra £9K above and beyond the cost of their education. To increase the cap to £7,000 would not just saddle graduates with huge debts, but also effectively require them to pay for their education TWICE!

    That isn’t fair or liberal.

  • Here is the problem, and I am sorry if I open up old wounds. We are still two parties. There are the social democrats with their view of higher taxation, social engineering and redistributive economics; there are the liberals with their approach of personal liberty, less state control and individual conscience. This argument is reflective of that division.

  • Actually Ian It’s all about broken promises

  • Doctor Syntax 16th Oct '10 - 1:43pm

    Ian – The central issue as far as I am concerned is not of a tension between social democracy and traditional liberalism but it is one of morality and indeed ‘individual conscience’. Individual conscience is not the exclusive property of any political party or faction of a party.

    If this promise is to be abandoned, then I think the only honourable thing to do would be to resign and stand in the bye election on a platform which includes the forms of funding that ran counter to the promise made at the general election.

  • Doctor Syntax 16th Oct '10 - 1:45pm

    The central issue as far as I am concerned is not of a tension between social democracy and traditional liberalism but it is one of morality and indeed ‘individual conscience’. Individual conscience is not the exclusive property of any political party or faction of a party.

    If this promise is to be abandoned, then I think the only honourable thing to do would be to resign and stand in the bye election on a platform which includes the forms of funding that ran counter to the promise made at the general election.

  • Doctor Syntax. There are two discussion going on here. On the promises one, I think that Cable and Clegg have made it clear that with the information they now have their previous position was wrong, and they have made clear their regret. To stick with something to the detriment of the country would prove that we could never be trusted to govern well. Besides, no one from a mainstream party is ever elected on one issue os the idea of holding a by-election is just silly – would you bring down the first chance we have had to be in government over this one issue? You will prove so many people right about what they say if you do think that! That is the reality of government rather than the luxury of just being a minority party that is held hostage to people’s favourite topics.

  • @Ian. The information they now have? The deficit is now know to be *less* than it was thought to be earlier this year, at the time that we where making this promise that we repeated just before the election, something that was party policy and on top of that something all our MP’s signed a public pledge to support. We got votes on this, we probably even won some seats on this.

    We had Nick telling the country, no more old politics, “I Believe it’s time for promises to be kept”, this is what we campaigned on, we where quite clear and direct on this, it wasn’t some vague commitment. buried in weasle words in a huge manifesto it was a *clear* explicit promise.

    “To stick to something to the detriment of the country” ..”Reality of Goverment”. I think that you’ll find that meekly acquiescing to everything the Conservative party want to do to this country is far more to the detriment of the country.

    As for the often repeated “Grown up politics phrase”, well this is real Grown up politics, this is politics in the bone and the blood, credibility and trust, if a gambler sits down at a table and loses and then refuses to honour the bet and pay up then they will never ever be trusted to to sit down at any poker table ever again.

    We cannot as a party renage on so absolute and clear cut a commitment, we cannot, we will never ever be trusted by the voters again, that’s *real* politics and while you might regret that we made the commitment or might not have agreed with the majority of the party on it, make it we did, very very publicly and explcitly, with a leader promising the voters no more broken promises at the same time, not realising that trust is the core and heart of politics is very far from grown up.

  • @Amy.

    Sorry – we’re not acquiescing to everything the Conservatives want. We go in as a junior partner in a coalition having obtained some of our policies. We are not in a position to insist on every commitment being fulfilled, and we should not expect it to be so (the same goes for the Tories as well).

    If you don’t like the idea that every commitment cannot be kept when in coalition, then you are really just rejecting the idea of coalition government. If you are rejecting that then I assume you do not agree with PR? I am being serious – compromise (which involves keeping some commitments and not others) is a reality of PR in every country in which it is practiced. If we get to see electoral reform we will see a lot more of this.

    Outside of our small world, and of a few vocal activists in the NUS etc, I don’t think a change of position here is making that much of an impact. This is not playing out as a big betrayal, although it will do the louder discontents in the party shout.

  • @ian If you don’t like the idea that every commitment cannot be kept when in coalition, then you are really just rejecting the idea of coalition government.

    Well I think everyone knows that…. what people are getting hot under the collar about is that all through the election the Lib Dems made a virtue of a new start in politics, a fully costed approach to spending and to top it all t MP’s signed personal pledges – and if you don’t think this will make an impact then I suggest politely you are not thinking ahead to future elections….I can see the poster with accompanying picture now…

    Clegg Promised
    Clegg Pledged
    Clegg Lied

    Simple stuff really for the Lib Dem enemies to portray – and don’t think the Tories won’t be running that one as well.

  • Sophie Bertrand 16th Oct '10 - 11:33pm

    Sorry I have left it so late to join in the comments everyone!
    Just a few key points that have seen being raised:
    – having the threshold increased from £15,000 to £21,000 is, as some have pointed out, not any much fairer. People are still going to be lumbered with masses of debt and, what makes the proposal even more ridiculous is that for those who never earn £21,000 they will not have to pay back the full debt meaning the Government will have to shoulder it which defeats the point IMO.
    – ‘coalition’ means ‘compromise’ – yes, it does. And I fully accept that the Conservatives have made compromises for us. But the Lib Dems have had to make too many. Our MPs signed a pledge and this letter is about getting them to honour it. We have always portrayed ourselves as the honest party. One of the reasons I joined the Lib Dems was because I felt they were more trustworthy than the rest. I want our MPs to help me keep my faith in them.

  • Well Ian, I’m a Liberal first and foremost and frankly I’m not big on being a social democrat. Its my liberal principals that make me opposed to the increase in tuition fees. I simply don’t believe people should pay for public services twice. (See previous post.)

    Its one thing to ask everyone to take their share of the pain. Its another to ask a group already laden with debt to do more.

    Lets face it would anyone dare to propose that people receiving benefits should treat the payments they receive as a loan that had to be paid back once they were earning over £21? Or that they pay-back hospitals for their NHS care? On top of paying taxes? Education is a basic public service too and if we want a highly educated workforce and all the social and economic benefits that entails, then we have to fund degree courses as public services.

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