Opinion: education is worth more than any price tag

Labour failed a generation of young people and students in this country. They left them with debt, with unemployment, and with a deficit worth £25,000 to each person. But in their final months they did do something to help.

Commissioning the Browne Review in Higher Education Funding reopened the debate on education in this country; it allowed those interested to have their say, and more importantly be listened to. It gave the Coalition Government the chance to reform the education system.

For Liberal Youth, our primary aim is to represent our membership, to do our best for them, and as such we set up a Post-16 Education Working Group, a committee consulting on everything from FE and HE, to adequate apprentice support. The Working Group’s primary evaluations concluded the vast majority of participants support the goal of universal free education paid for by general taxation. Not free at the point of access and pay later. Simply free.

Objectively speaking, the Browne Review has good intentions; increasing student choice, greater investment and widening access to disadvantaged groups, are all honourable aims. The problem is we disagree with how to achieve them.

Expanding the availability of grants and bursary’s, increasing the minimum income threshold and finding a long term funding solution must happen. Nevertheless, if Lord Browne’s recommendations are accepted, we will fail those who need our help the most; increasing tuition fees and interest on loans are regressive steps, ­the physical and mental consequences of debt are ignored and some people who deserve to go to university will be priced out of the market. Our aim must be universal free education at all levels.

The worst news we’ve heard this morning is perhaps not the content of the Browne Review, after all, it does not have to be accepted, it is that the proposals are to be rushed through. When all organisations were promised six months to consult their memberships, hearing that it is to be fast-tracked as a Money Bill is the worst crime. For people who received a free education to restrict our access to one without talking to us is fairly disingenuous.

The Browne Review is devastating to the long-term goal of education based on ability, rather than the ability to pay. The Student Finance Plan, whilst being a thorough and pragmatic solution to university funding during difficult economic times, does not meet the needs of those who will use it. Its aims are laudable, but it is not the solution.

Parliamentarians work for the people, not for themselves. To all parties; I ask on behalf of Liberal Youth, to work for the students of this country, to find a Plan B, and a step towards our aim. Fight for free education, and honour the pledge to vote NO to increased tuition fees in any guise.

Education is worth more than any price tag.

And Lord Browne? Thanks, but no thanks.

Sarah Harding is the Liberal Youth Policy Officer

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Good article. The Browne report is to education what the Beeching report was to transport. Both short-term, ill-thought out & fundamentally wrong. Just as most enlightened people now look back and regard the Beeching report as a big mistake, I have little doubt that, if implemented, the Browne report will be regarded as a big mistake by future generations.

  • .
    There’s nothing much wrong with the system that Lord Browne proposes, it’s the increase in fees and interest rate that is the problem. That’s a political decision. The fee currently stands at £3290. They could have reduced it to £2500. They could have cut the defence budget to fund it. They could have increased higher rate tax to fund it. They could introduce a graduate tax for all those who benefitted from free university, as the first comment suggests. Some may argue that would be a retrospective tax and unacceptable, but it’s no different to putting a cap on the benefits of parents who already have a large family. They can’t go back in time and change the size of their family.

  • David Lawson 15th Oct '10 - 2:53pm

    It’s about 5 months since the election.

    The kindest thing anyone can say is that the Lib Dems cannot tell us what the government may need to do 150 days in the future. The main planks of their pitch for votes may turn out to be the exact opposite of what they decide is needed, in all practical senses, the moment they have to make decisions.

    Some people posting wish to leave aside the pledge. Some people wish to leave aside the risk, which Terry identifies. Well, it’s still political madness. Losses are focussed and high (possibly ruinously high for some) and the blame will go to a party which promised to stop it and was given the power by the voters to stop it. The Lib Dems have always had a problem defining themselves. It just got much harder. You don’t even know the what the Lib Dems are for by listening to the Lib Dems.

  • From the esteemed Times educational Supplement:

    Speaking to The TES last month, Tony Travers, an expert on local government funding at the London School of Economics, said schools would feel as though “the sky has fallen in” once the numbers are made clear on Wednesday.
    “The cuts will be the heaviest since the late 1970s, but as these spending squeezes will likely last for the next five years or more, they will be unlike anything experienced since the war,” he said.
    “Schools really will feel as though the sky has fallen in. I think it says a lot about a society that puts health ahead of education.”
    Whereas schools have been used to annual cash increases of 4 or 5 per cent, they will now be staring at increases of less than 1 per cent.
    Local authorities are already looking at 10-15 per cent cuts to their funding which, Mr Travers said, would result in schools being played off against other council services.

  • “The Browne Review is devastating to the long-term goal of education based on ability, rather than the ability to pay.”

    This is simply not accurate. Students will get university places based on their ability – and on no other criterium.
    The only thing that will depend on ability to pay is when/how much/whether they pay back the cost.

    It’s perfectly understandable that you are opposed to the Browne Review – but that should not be a reason for sloppy reading/wilful misunderstanding/misrepresentation of what it proposes to do.

  • The headline “education is worth more than any price tag” is so idiotic that it completely negates anything sensible that the article might say.
    What any education? any degree however pointless ?
    The trouble with the argument that people won’t go to University because they will be put off by tuition fees was used before their introduction and instead we have record numbers of applicants.

  • Maria
    The author of the lead article has made a perfectly valid point. The prospect of incurring fees totalling £9870 is quite different to the daunting prospect of running-up a fees debt of £30,000 to £40,000. This is bound to deter many from applying.

  • What ever damage Labour did to education and to students is about to be dwarfed by what the LibDems are about to do – not quite what I and millions more voted for. Where is Clegg and his ‘new politics’. The whole sorry LibDem mess reminds me to the great Pete Townsend 1971 recording by the Who, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. Find it, listen to it, and learn.

  • “some people who deserve to go to university will be priced out of the market”

    How? No fees upfront, repayments start when you earn £21k or above, higher interest for those who earn more.

    How does that price anyone out of the market?

  • Dominic Curran 15th Oct '10 - 4:54pm

    Has Liberal Youth calculated how much free higher education for 50% of the population would cost? i suspect that that would show us how unrealistic their policy is.

  • BUT Dominic Curran, as I understand it, the abolishment of tuition fees, or at the very least no increase in fees, is official Liberal Democrat policy, and not just the policy of Liberal Youth. It is one of the reasons why myself and others were totally duped and voted LibDem; but believe me never again. I really don’t like the ‘new politics’, it’s so similar to the old version.

  • A very restrained provoking and dignified artcticle. I think I would have been far more of an emotive hothead when I was a student on such issues. hmmm perhaps I haven’t changed 🙂 good luck with the campagn

  • So, George Kendall, the Liberal Democrats were sublimely unaware of the spending/borrowing numbers of the British (Labour) government up to and including Thursday 6 May 2010. From Friday 7 May 2010 you, Mr Clegg, Cable and many leading LibDem MPs had a Damacscene conversion and suddenly saw the world from a Conservative point of view. So much so that, policies that had been anathema to LibDems, became instantly desirable. People like me who voted Lib Dem (never, ever again) realised, very quickly, that we has been ‘had’ – big time. No ‘new politics’ no principled politics, just the same old Tory party playing an incredibly skillful game with Clegg and the rest sucked into it all, and leaving people like you George to try, with the use of thousands of words, to defend the whole sorry LibDem mess. Give up George, your efforts are as futile as they are embarrassing.

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