Opinion: The new tuition fees argument – having your cake and eating it

tuition fees voteOn Friday, the Guardian published an article pointing out that a lot more public money than expected will have to be contributed to tuition fees loans.

This has been greeted with a certain amount of glee by the usual suspects. On some level, I can understand the excitement, but nevertheless, it looks like a case of trying hard to have this particular cake and keep eating it.

People who used to shout about fees are now upset that after all, the state is putting more money into the system than scaremongered at first: not that this is actual news to anybody who managed to have a calm, rational look at the system ever since it was set up.

So, either you want the state to contribute more, or you don’t: which is it to be?

Granted, there may be better ways of making this contribution, but following the Browne Review, there was hardly a chance to overhaul the system completely. One reason for initiating that review (under the last Labour government) was to address underfunding of universities which was getting precarious, while also avoiding having to put in more public money.

Of course, in the event, the measure was presented as a way of cutting public expenditure, combined with a way of making higher education no less affordable for students (or, in actual fact, the graduates who were going to pay later on).

Ultimately, this happens when you try to reconcile (1) fees, or, per Browne Review, increased fees, (2) not contributing more public money to higher education and research, (3) funding universities at least reasonably well and (4) trying to make it easier for students to pay back their loans. These four aims are not reconcilable.

Something’s got to give, and frankly, I am happy that it may just be (2) more than the other items on my list.

I am not sure how far this was deliberate: it is presumably a fairly inevitable by-product of trying to reconcile (1), (3) and (4), while also producing more graduates, which was always likely to lower graduate salaries.

Of course, with my cynical hat on, I understand that this is mostly about campaigners desperately trying to hold on to a favourite campaign issue after reality has made it lose most of its teeth (as some people predicted all along).

I had been wondering how this was going to be kept on the agenda for 2015. I guess now we know. Unlike many of the complaints about the system ever since 2010, this particular line of attack has the virtue of being in line with reality – but how far do we really want to complain about the state contributing a bit more money to higher education while making it less difficult for graduates to pay back their loan?

It’ll be very interesting to see what solutions are going to be suggested, particularly what Labour might come up with. Perhaps it would be best to start over and design something new from scratch – but if that’s not possible, it’s either higher fees or an acceptance that a wealthy country should contribute more to research and higher education.

* Maria Pretzler is a Lecturer in Greek History at Swansea University. She blogs at Working Memories , where ancient Greekery and Libdemmery can happily coexist.

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117 Comments

  • @ Robin Wilde

    So what are you suggesting instead of student fees? And where is the money going to come to pay for it?

  • Robin Wilde

    “Surely it is not an advantage to be distributing loans that cannot be repaid?”

    Well, you are misrepresenting the situation the lower paid graduates never pay it back the higher paid do.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Mar '14 - 9:27am

    Pardon?
    So could you explain what was the purpose of the the whole tuition fees policy.
    It is certainly not as a means to increase investment in higher education, as you appear to claim. Recent press coverage shows that the scheme will cost more than the one it replaced if the government’s estimates of loan repayments prove to be even worse, having slipped near to a notional ‘breakeven point’ since the new scheme was introduced. Sounds like a side-effect of poor planning or an economy in which graduates are poorly paid rather than a deliberate part of the tuition fees plan. If anything, you are the one having your titular cake and eating it.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Mar '14 - 9:29am

    Ooops – thought I was the first post so should have started mine with @Maria

  • Peter Watson 23rd Mar '14 - 9:32am

    @RC “So what are you suggesting instead of student fees? And where is the money going to come to pay for it?”
    While deciding what to do (didn’t Lib Dems used to have a policy on this that we voted for?), it looks like some money could be saved by reverting to the previous system 😉

  • @ Robin Wilde

    I was a gutted as anyone when this policy came into place (I left the labour party over the tuition fees introduction in the 90’s), but the worst fears of people simply haven’t been realised, more kids are going to uni than ever, its a better system once you look at the reality and not the tabloid headlines. Its not a traditional loan, its much closer to a graduate tax. You pay nothing while you’re studying and don’t contribute to the fees if you don’t earn enough. It replaced a system where almost everyone paid back their fees and replaced it with one where those that get good jobs pay back more, but those in lower paid jobs pay back less or nothing at all. Its such a shame that this seems to have been lost in the ‘£9,000 fees for all students’ headline rantings.

    Unrelated but interesting point from a recently graduated student at our North West conference yesterday. He said now students are paying £9,000 for their tuition they are *demanding* more time and interaction from their lecturers. Its driving up standards as students are thinking ‘well I’m spending £9,000 a year I better get my money’s worth’ and are putting huge amounts of effort in.

    Have to say as one of the last people to get free tuition for my BA I spent most of my 3 years avoiding the lecturers and doing the bare minimum possible to get my degree, which was only 4 or 5 hours of lectures a week. Much more fun but a lot less learned I would imagine. This changed completely when I had to pay for my MSc.

  • @ Peter Watson

    “While deciding what to do (didn’t Lib Dems used to have a policy on this that we voted for?), it looks like some money could be saved by reverting to the previous system.”

    There is no “money to be saved”, only extra money that needs to go in to fund the expansion of higher education. Where is this supposed to come from? Your reply simply puts us back at square one.

    Our previous policy would have required extra money from raising taxes elsewhere, which the Tories would not allow and we, with only a fifth as many MPs, were not able to demand.

    So I see there are still no answers from you as to what should be done instead.

  • What I sense here is that our opponents are still of the “free money from nowhere” school of public finance.

  • People who used to shout about fees are now upset that after all, the state is putting more money into the system than scaremongered at first: not that this is actual news to anybody who managed to have a calm, rational look at the system ever since it was set up.

    It’s not more money than “scaremongered” at first – it’s more money than was projected by the government itself!

    You seem to be suggesting the government’s projections weren’t based on a calm, rational look at the system …

  • Oh dear not tuition fees again. When will people just realise that Nick totally screwed up on this issue and we won’t recover from it electorally; however much people choose to rationalise that they were right all along and it’s just a question waiting and people will accept it. The whole thing is toxic to us and the reason it’s not an issue is because all those who have decided we are untrustworthy have long made their minds up on it and will not change, certainly not with the present leadership.

  • “People who used to shout about fees”
    Like every Lib Dem candidate at the last election and take a look at how the Party reacted in Parliament when they were originally introduced.

    “Unlike many of the complaints about the system ever since 2010, this particular line of attack has the virtue of being in line with reality”
    Most attacks I’ve seen have been that Lib Dem candidates pledged personally to do one thing and did another. Sorry but that’s reality.

    “I had been wondering how this was going to be kept on the agenda for 2015.”
    As opposed to Labour showing loads of pictures of Lib Dem Mp’s and candidates holding the pledge followed by a short clip of Nick Clegg talking about different politics with “no more broken promises”.

    Rightly or wrongly this will be a major factor of the next election due to integrity not policy.

  • “The whole thing is toxic to us and the reason it’s not an issue is because all those who have decided we are untrustworthy have long made their minds up on it and will not change, certainly not with the present leadership.”

    The whole thing is toxic because we allow our political opponents to use it as a weapon against us to stigmatise us when they know full well they would have done exactly the same thing had they been in power.

    They also use it to distract from the large number of promises we *have* implemented which go to show that we ARE trustworthy.

    Sadly, so many people, present company included, are busy doing Labour’s work for them.

  • @ Steve Way

    Labour has “integrity”????

  • I used to believe that Lib Dem MPs had integrity but having seen them happily trooping into the Government lobbies to vote for the increase in tuition fees, the bedroom tax, secret courts etcetera, it iscrydtal clear that we still have ‘the same old politics’ from all three parties. Shame.

  • RC

    What I sense here is that our opponents are still of the “free money from nowhere” school of public finance.

    Whereas you were of that school when you were campaigning for votes – to the extent of signed promises by the candidates – but ditched it within days of the election. How admirable.

  • Laurence Scott-Macka 23rd Mar '14 - 11:35am

    Just goes to show the SNP policy of no tuition fees is a zero cost option. I am sure that used to be policy here as well but then Nick met David.

  • Sadly RC it was the biggest one to many of the public, one that made us unique, and just about the earliest to be ditched. When you say “we allow our political opponents to use it as a weapon against us” who did that? |Us by not working out a means of totally silencing Labour, or Nick by thinking he could just rationalise it all away with an “It’s for your own good.”

  • David Evans
    You are absolutely correct to say —
    “. …..Nick totally screwed up on this issue and we won’t recover from it electorally; however much people choose to rationalise that they were right all along …
    ………….The whole thing is toxic to us and the reason it’s not an issue is because all those who have decided we are untrustworthy have long made their minds up on it and will not change, certainly not with the present leadership….”

    To a generation Clegg will always be the man who solemnly promised one thing and only weeks later betrayed them and did the exact opposite. He had his photograph taken making this solemn promise. He went on TV and said it. it was in his manifesto. Clegg betrayed them, the issue is toxic, it will remain toxic, it is as much a part of Clegg as Iraq is a part of Blair.

    No amount of justification, explanation, revisionism will change those facts.

  • “To a generation Clegg will always be the man who solemnly promised one thing and only weeks later betrayed them and did the exact opposite. He had his photograph taken making this solemn promise. He went on TV and said it. it was in his manifesto. Clegg betrayed them, the issue is toxic, it will remain toxic, it is as much a part of Clegg as Iraq is a part of Blair.

    No amount of justification, explanation, revisionism will change those facts.”

    Spot on ! I’m amazed that commentators cannot see that saying ‘no more broken promises’ one month then breaking a very big promise the very next month is guaranteed to result in a loss of trust and make people turn away in disgust. It shows a certain contempt for people’s intelligence to assume they won’t notice that they’ve been conned.

  • I don’t think it is contempt for people’s intelligence on the part of the Cleggonistas, they just wish it all hadn’t happened and are in denial about the scale of the problem that their hero has created. Thus they rationalise on things that are irrelevant to the people who are affected. and tell us it will all be fine, if only we give their hero just a bit more time.

  • David Evans yes you may be right. What I meant was that it leaves voters with that impression. It doesn’t help that when pointed out that lots of students and their families voted for the Lib Dems because of their pledge, many commentators respond. With words to the effect of “‘ah well, the student vote was not that great anyway” !!

  • Let me get this straight. We are now meant to defend the tuition fees policy on the basis that it has failed? The Lib Dem message to voters is now – you can’t trust us to keep our promises but it doesn’t matter because we are also incompetent.
    Don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  • The Guardian is a partisan, occasionally rubbish newspaper and any such story published in it should be treated with a pinch of salt.

    But the story wasn’t first published in The Guardian, they picked it up from THES, a very well respected specialist publication, covering a finding from the OBR, a very well respected organisation.
    http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/massive-budget-hole-predicted-as-rab-charge-rises/2012189.article

    Rather than attempt to poison the well, Liberal Democrats should take this very, very seriously. The UK’s HE sector is hugely important and tremendously well respected internationally. It risks being irrevocably harmed due to government policy. Fix it, or withdraw from government for the foreseeable future.

  • Nick Collins 23rd Mar '14 - 1:06pm

    “Don’t know whether to laugh or cry”. Why not do both, or would that be a bit like having your cake and eating it?

  • This kind of atrocious logic leads one to assume that the US healthcare system must be the best, since they spend more money per capita on it.

    The money is being spent on student following tuition loans. This is accounted differently to the previous block teaching grants which have seen significant cuts. Arts, humanities, and social science funding is overall drastically down on what it was in 2010 (itself a huge cut from 2007-2008 funding). Research funding is down in real terms. Part time course offerings by providers are down because they don’t bring in enough student funding.

    Now the government and students are paying more for higher education while we all bask in the shared delusion that this situation can continue indefinitely. Grim times.

    I await the usual suspects shouting me down for “not understanding the system”. The same people have come to embrace the Lib Dem groupthink on this issue and persistently refuse to talk to people who have been very badly affected by these changes – older & mature students, foreign students, students with disabilities and illnesses.

  • Look: let’s suppose that the tripling of fees was a great success. Even then it would still be hard to forgive the betrayal. I’m not an activist or a columnist or a propagandist or a blogger, and I can’t see myself ever joining a political party. Please try to understand that the bitterness I and many like me feel is not somehow a political ploy. We’re sincerely bitter, because we were betrayed.

    As it happens, the tripling of fees has not been a success. It’s absurd to present this as a qualified victory because more state money might wind up going into HE. That wasn’t why we were told it was a good idea! Not that it even was a good idea in the terms the Tories did present it. You’re a lecturer: don’t you understand that the policy was part of a set of measures which together were meant to marketise and stratify the sector, deprofessionalising academics and opening HE up to for-proft raiders?

  • This is facile post-hoc rationalisation.

  • Apart from the last 2 paragraphs I don’t see the point of this article.

  • Thanks Maria. Nicely put. You do realize, however, that the same argument applies to Lib Dems too? They won’t be able to have their cake and keep eating it. Either they wanted to save money for the exchequer or wanted to increase spending on HE. They can’t claim to have done both!

  • chris j smart 23rd Mar '14 - 3:39pm

    It is truly sad to see that a number of our members and leaders still don’t get it.
    For the first time in generations the voters started to believe that perhaps, just possibly there was a political party that could be trusted and at long last voted for it in big numbers. They had seen the economic prophet proved right. They heard the great leader promise not to like other political leaders and stick by his word and indeed he had publicly signed a pledge and they took that as a blood signed oath. They then heard him debate with the other leaders on the TV and he created a reputation of integrity and speaking truth without fear or favour to sponsors (he had none) or craven personal interests. Having voted on those promises, surprise, surprise their vote had counted. The Lib Dems achieved positions of power in a coalition government. Surely now politics would change.

    Now in government party members were told that principles were for the beard and sandals brigade we must grow up or go. Half the membership went.
    Half the party membership deserted ship and the rump party continues to make lame excuses. Lib Dem Voters outside the party have been more than disappointed they have been embarrassed to admit how they voted. It will take more than excuses and pious pledges to bring them back.
    Lib DEm Voice comments shows that a few souls are still fighting a rear guard action to recover our dignity and get our party back.

  • @RC
    “Labour has “integrity”????”

    Nice straw man, I didn’t say they had integrity I said they (and the Tories) would use the Lib Dem lack of it against them. Think back to how the Lib Dems commented when Blair raised tuition fees after promising to “Legislate against them”.

    As for Labour’s integrity, I suspect that like every Party they have their share of those that do have it, those that don’t and utter Machiavellian s#it’s….

  • Peter Watson 23rd Mar '14 - 5:20pm

    @Gareth Wilson “the worst fears of people simply haven’t been realised, more kids are going to uni than ever, its a better system once you look at the reality and not the tabloid headlines. Its not a traditional loan, its much closer to a graduate tax.”
    “more kids are going to uni than ever”
    Over the last few years nursing has become 100% degree entry and accounts for more UCAS applications than any other degree with fees paid for by the NHS. What is the like for like change in numbers when nursing is stripped out, especially the much vaunted figures about social mobility? Furthermore, for children who had planned for several years to go to university and who had the new fee structure dropped on them without warning, what new alternatives to going to university and avoiding the fees did the coalition government create for them when it increased fees, especially with youth unemployment at such high levels. The value of a university degree (a prerequisite for many careers) did not evaporate overnight.

    “Its not a traditional loan, its much closer to a graduate tax.”
    It looks like a loan, it walks like a loan, and it quacks like a loan. And it’s called a loan; the clue is in the name. A graphic on this page (http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/mar/21/explained-triple-tuition-fees-no-extra-cash) shows how graduates on higher salaries can pay less than those on lower salaries and Martin Lewis (http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/students/should-i-get-student-loan) explains how the wealthiest parents of those high earning graduates can save even more if they pay the fees upfront. Is this what qualifies as a good sort of tax in Tory and Lib Dem circles now?

  • The folks in the Westminster Bubble often get so excited / blinded by their day to day issues of detail that they become incapable of seeing the Big Picture.

    They maybe think that tuition fees, top down NHS reorganisation (privatisation). and subsidised new nuclear power are all different issues.
    They are not different —- they are all the one single issue of trust.
    One big issue where Clegg and co have betrayed the trust of the people who voted for them, worked to get them elected and who trusted them.
    Hence today’s opinion polls which show support for us is stuck on just 9% same as it has been for months.
    Fourth place behind UKIP — it really says something when people trust UKIP more . How does Clegg explain that to party members, the leader who made us less trustworthy than UKIP?
    Unable to get people to stand in local council elections because they do not want to be associated with Clegg and co.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Mar '14 - 5:57pm

    @RC “So I see there are still no answers from you as to what should be done instead.”
    I think it is also beholding on Lib Dems such as yourself to explain why this new system is the best option in and of itself. It is not enough (and possibly no longer true) to simply say it is better than the previous one; a system which Lib Dems (presumably such as yourself) opposed on principle, campaigned against, and for which they condemned Labour’s broken promises. The argument that alternatives are from the ‘“free money from nowhere” school of public finance’ sounds particularly hollow if this new scheme is going to cost the taxpayer more than its predecessor.

    Every alternative has its pros and cons. When I went to university it was paid for out of general taxation (like Clegg) and I also received a grant to live on (unlike Clegg), but fewer people went to university. As an engineer married to a doctor (both careers requiring degrees) my wife and I pay far more income tax than we would if we had followed different paths. Conversely, from general taxation as a nation we have long paid for universal education to 16 (18 for some) and healthcare for all. Would you advocate a Lib Dem policy that all schooling (maybe starting with A-levels) and medical treatment should be funded by the pupil or patient with a loan paid back as an additional income tax? If not, why is higher education different?

    It seems that the party should go back to the start with a discussion and decisions about what are its core principles and priorities for providing and funding higher education and vocational training, and let policy derive from that. Before 2010 Lib Dems had those discussions, it debated alternatives and formulated policy. The same cannot be said for the party’s current position where it seems to have been bounced by circumstances and a willingness to break promises but which it defends for goodness only knows what reasons.

  • Chris Manners 23rd Mar '14 - 6:30pm

    @RC

    Oppositions oppose- external and internal. You can’t expect them to come up with fully costed plans all the time, unless you give them access to the OBR which the Coalition haven’t done.

    Until that day, they’re entitled to say “sorry, your policy has cost more when you said it wouldn’t. Do better!”

  • Chris Manners 23rd Mar '14 - 6:34pm

    ” “the worst fears of people simply haven’t been realised, more kids are going to uni than ever”

    Yes, indeed, though that’s been during a very bad job market. Rather than spend time unemployed or on zero hours, the obvious thing is to go to university. Just as when the City is doing badly, teaching looks a better option.

    I’ve no idea how it’ll work out longer term- by accident, it seems that we’ve come up with a progressive system of sorts. I can’t believe that will be allowed to continue. We’ll see then what happens to the numbers studying.

  • daft ha'p'orth 23rd Mar '14 - 6:50pm

    This article boils down to a combination of assumed powerlessness (‘there was hardly a chance to overhaul the system’ – oh, really, why not?), wishful thinking (‘desperately trying to hold on to a favourite campaign issue after reality has made it lose most of its teeth’ – dream on), non-sequitur pile-up and an active reality distortion field.

    The nation is going to be forking out cash for universities, whether you insist on students signing an IOU or not. All this ‘free money’ stuff ignores the fact that loan money is also ‘free money’ unless repayable. If the IOU has any likelihood of being honoured, then you can perhaps differentiate it. However, if the IOU is not worth much then you’re in practice doing what you were doing anyway, but in a much more unpleasant and circuitous (expensive) manner. And why would you choose to enrich debt collectors for no national gain? I’d sincerely like to know, because this seems to be Lib Dem policy these days and frankly the thought that my vote helped to enable this nonsense makes me nauseous.

    As for this stuff about how students apparently get a better student experience because paying more money makes them pushier, several of my colleagues have left teaching because the university increasingly expected them to pass inadequate work. Students have paid so much to enter that there must be prizes for all. The present situation has, at best, managed to progress universities from the old-style ‘game of bums on seats’ to a ‘keeping bums happy on comfortable seats theme park’, in which many students expect shiny iPads and guaranteed passes. I don’t believe that this is an improvement.

    Student contact hours are increasingly entrusted to permatemps on zero-hour contracts paid a flat rate per course. I know this because I am one. Running two courses a year is worth maybe £4k to me, so I do it alongside another job, fitting the student hours in where I can. If the state is contributing more, then it isn’t trickling down to teaching staff.

    Bottom line: the university system is screwed up. The fact that so many have tried to reduce the whole subject to interfactional disputes (it’s all Labour’s fault!) suggests a dangerous lack of perspective.

  • I’m not sure what the point of this article is? Are you deliberately trying to invoke rage amongst the people that used to voted for you? Are you deliberately trying to commit suicide?

    We were told that fees of £9,000 per annum would be unusual and only allowed in exceptional circumstances. In reality they became the norm without the institutions needing to justify their application.

    We were told that there would be fines for paying back the loans early to try and make the system less regressive. These were quietly dropped.

    We were told that the system is progressive! – despite the fact that even a cursory analysis very clearly shows the opposite.

    We were told it is a graduate tax when the concept of a concept of a graduate tax was rejected by the coalition in favour of the fees suggested by the former chief executive of BP. Fees are fees – once you’ve paid them you don’t have to pay anything else. They are very clearly not a tax.

    We were told the amounts written off by the government were much lower, whereas the projections are now much, much higher.

  • Chris Manners 23rd Mar '14 - 9:19pm

    “We were told that fees of £9,000 per annum would be unusual and only allowed in exceptional circumstances. In reality they became the norm without the institutions needing to justify their application.”

    That’s an important point.

    I’m not close enough to it to know whether the extra money for universities has been spent well, The only students I know have gone to the same unversities they would anyway, and got their heads down, like they would anyway.

  • Chris Manners 23rd Mar '14 - 9:19pm

    “We were told that fees of £9,000 per annum would be unusual and only allowed in exceptional circumstances. In reality they became the norm without the institutions needing to justify their application.”

    That’s an important point.

    I’m not close enough to it to know whether the extra money for universities has been spent well, The only students I know have gone to the same unversities they would anyway, and got their heads down, like they would anyway.

  • Chris Manners 23rd Mar '14 - 9:19pm

    “We were told that fees of £9,000 per annum would be unusual and only allowed in exceptional circumstances. In reality they became the norm without the institutions needing to justify their application.”

    That’s an important point.

    I’m not close enough to it to know whether the extra money for universities has been spent well, The only students I know have gone to the same unversities they would anyway, and got their heads down, like they would anyway.

  • It seems to me strange that 45% of students from September 2012 will not earn more than £21,000 pa for the next 30 years. Maybe I just don’t understand where the 45% figure comes from. However if 45% of students do not pay back their student loan I am not unhappy because we did increase the earnings level to £21,000 from £16,365 so more students will not have to repay their loans.

    @ David Evans – “When will people just realise that Nick totally screwed up on this issue and we won’t recover from it electorally; however much people choose to rationalise that they were right all along … The whole thing is toxic to us and the reason it’s not an issue is because all those who have decided we are untrustworthy have long made their minds up on it and will not change, certainly not with the present leadership.”

    @ John Tilley – “the issue is toxic, it will remain toxic, it is as much a part of Clegg as Iraq is a part of Blair. No amount of justification, explanation, revisionism will change those facts” (sic).

    The only way we could have retained our creditability would have been to expel all our MP’s who voted for the new tuition fee system because by breaking their individual pledges they brought the party into disrepute. Then maybe we could argue that we are trustworthy because we will not tolerate untrustworthy pledge breakers in the party. Then maybe we could argue that the new arrangements are better than the ones created by Labour or which most likely would have been created by the Tories. However we need to have addressed the trust issue first.

    @ Peter Watson – “I think it is also beholding on Lib Dems such as yourself to explain why this new system is the best option in and of itself. It is not enough (and possibly no longer true) to simply say it is better than the previous one; a system which Lib Dems (presumably such as yourself) opposed on principle, campaigned against, and for which they condemned Labour’s broken promises. The argument that alternatives are from the ‘“free money from nowhere” school of public finance’ sounds particularly hollow if this new scheme is going to cost the taxpayer more than its predecessor.”

    I supported our old position on tuition fees and believed the party when it wrote in the manifesto “We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the change is affordable even in these difficult economic times, and without cutting university income. We will immediately scrap fees for final year students” (page 39). Therefore the justification for the new system must be that universities needed more income and this new system provided it and the new system is affordable and fairer than the old system. Even if the new system costs more money than was expected and more than the old Labour system it will cost less money than scraping tuition fees and increases the income of universities. Also I prefer the higher level of salary needed to repay back the student loan. Personally I would not have broken my pledge if I had made one and been elected as an MP but I do believe that the current system is the best we could have got in COALITION. However until we expel those MPs who voted for the new system I can’t canvass for the party at the next general election. I find it hard enough to continue to vote for a party that tolerates people who break their individual promises.

  • Ed Shepherd 24th Mar '14 - 6:35am

    Lifelong healthcare and lifelong education should be free at the point of delivery being funded by a progressive taxation system. An individual loan is not a tax, no matter how favourable the repayment terms might be. As for the idea that students were lazy when they were not charged tuition fees, I think the writer speaks for himself. I did a degree under the system where my fees were paid by my local authority and I received a grant. Like most students on my course, we took our course seriously and worked hard. I was proud to be part of a society that valued and supported me by giving me a free Higher Education.

  • Andrew Noblet 24th Mar '14 - 8:45am

    Defending the indefensible!

  • @RC
    “only extra money that needs to go in to fund the expansion of higher education”

    Which expansion? Has the proportion of youngsters going on to HE increased under the coalition? The proportion increased massively under the Tories, particularly in the period 1988-1992, and they were happy to pay for the expansion using progressive taxation of the whole population. A much smaller increase in student numbers happened under Labour but that was set against the introduction of limited fees.Where is the expansion in 2010 that necessitated the increased funding you speak of?

    @Richard Morris
    “But I’m not sure the argument was ever that ‘this system would cost the government less’. ”

    Browne was about restructuring who paid for HE and how they paid it. Mandelson stated that the Browne review was being set up to consider the “balance of contributions to universities by taxpayers, students, graduates and employers”. That’s what it was about and when it was adopted in 2010 those that opposed it were criticised for not facing up to the realities of the public finances. It is risible to argue that, through incompetence, the government will continue to provide the same support for HE in addition to the extra fees that students now pay. Yes, the vice-chancellors love getting more money in return for the educating the same number of students to the same standard. How is that value for money for the taxpayer and graduates though?

    We have a system that, through increased structural underemployment of graduates, costs the taxpayer just as much as before, but which doesn’t hit low paid graduates but does hit very hard those graduates that do manage to find jobs in the middle of the graduate salary range (those on around 35k-40k per year get hit the hardest). The new system of tuition fees is a huge impediment to social mobility.

  • daft ha'p'orth 24th Mar '14 - 9:33am

    @Richard Morris
    Non-sequiturs again.
    No, fees and university funding are two totally separate things. One is a potential medium to long term funding mechanism and the other is an immediate funding decision. They are independent decisions which have been conflated for the purposes of political convenience.

    The point of increasing funding to universities is nothing more or less than increasing funding to universities. Whether that is/was a good idea (and what form that increase should have taken, what obligations it should be tied into and what impact that would be expected to have) is a can of worms in itself. We know this, having wasted a lot of money on other badly-judged funding decisions that did not have the intended effect.

    The point of attempting to tie university funding in with career-long personal debt, on the other hand? It isn’t a necessary prerequisite for maintaining or increasing funding to universities. It is a separate choice. If it turned out to more than just giving money straight to universities it would reasonably be viewable as a total waste of effort by all but those whose ideologies for whatever reason require them to support this sort of thing. Why would we do it, if it wasn’t because the system would cost less? Just because we think Britain needs more administrators and debt collectors? Because our ideology requires people on circa 40k to pay more over their lifetimes for a given degree than people on 120k?

  • Stuart Mitchell 24th Mar '14 - 9:54am

    @Richard Morris
    “But I’m not sure the argument was ever that ‘this system would cost the government less’. However, if anyone can point me to a link that has Vince, Nick or anyone else in Westminster saying this, I’d be obliged.”

    Vince Cable, House of Commons, 9th December 2010 :-

    “[Increasing fees to £9,000] represents a central part of a policy that is designed to maintain high-quality universities in the long term, that tackles the fiscal deficit and that provides a more progressive system of graduate contributions based on people’s ability to pay.”

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm101209/debtext/101209-0002.htm

  • Well who’d have thought it? A government policy that is costing a bit more than expected.
    I could have told you years ago (Blair’s 50% going to uni) – that it’s not possible if 50% of the country have degrees- to pull-in the same high wages that they used to. It was O.K. for 5% when we had the colonies!

    But saying it’s good because we are paying more to HE is pushing it a bit!

    There are so many things said in the previous comments that it would take too long to comment on them.
    However, it does seem strange to me that practically no one on this page and outside – in the real world, can get it into their heads that Coalitions means both partners have to agree to accept something they would not otherwise do.Why do people talk as if the Lib/Dems won the election? If they had, the fees would have been reduced over six years- BUT THEY DIDN’T!
    Is there a great big outrage about the Tories not getting their manifesto pledge to raise the inheritance tax threshold?
    Of course not . Practically all the media are Tory or Labour. So they have taken every opportunity to make it such a outrages issue.
    It would seem – if everyone has to stick to their promises ; even in a Coalition, that no party can ever enter a Coalition!
    Everyone turns a blind eye to that fact.
    Do people really think that when there are 7 people in a room; 6 Tories and 1 Lib/Dem, that the Lib/Dem is going to get all the things he wants? Again- of course not!
    I’m sure I heard that ( I may be wrong?) that one of the other parties was going for £12K and the other had no limit!
    Is this ever mentioned? Again- of course not.

    It’s called party politics and democracy -put up with it and continue to be a Lib/Dem. 🙂

  • It would seem – if everyone has to stick to their promises ; even in a Coalition, that no party can ever enter a Coalition!

    It’s difficult to believe that, after all the discussion there has been, some people still don’t understand the distinction between (1) the Lib Dem manifesto policy of abolishing tuition fees and funding HE through general taxation and (2) the signed personal pledges made by candidates of all parties to vote against any increase in tuition fees.

    Of course parties can’t be blamed for failing to carry out their manifesto commitments if they don’t win the election. But there’s absolutely no excuse for a candidate making a signed promise to his constituents to vote in a certain way on a particular issue, and then breaking that promise.

  • Were we ever told that tripling fees would cost the country less? Surely the point of tripling fees was to increase funding to the Universities – which it has done. I don’t agree with what happened – we said we would abolish fees, then did the opposite, quite disgracefully.

    Obviously, it was a way of both increasing total funding to universities and reducing the government’s contribution to that funding. That was fundamental to the whole discussion about fees.

  • daft ha'p'orth 24th Mar '14 - 11:05am

    @AC Trussell
    ” it does seem strange to me that practically no one on this page and outside – in the real world, can get it into their heads that Coalitions means both partners have to agree to accept something they would not otherwise do.”

    It seems strange to me that many of the people on this page tend to accept the narrative that the LDs were powerless on this issue, when it seems clear that they had a choice of where to spend their influence and chose to spend it on a doomed referendum instead. They were far too happy to abandon their stated intentions on this subject.

    “I’m sure I heard that ( I may be wrong?) that one of the other parties was going for £12K and the other had no limit!”

    If your point is that settling for only 9k makes the LDs virtuous by comparison with the other parties, well, it’s a little like the famous story about sex and money, the punchline of which goes
    “A: What kind of woman do you think I am?
    B: We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling over the price.”

    We’ve established that these three parties take a very similar view on the subject of tuition fees. Now we’re just haggling over the price.

  • The more the lib dems try to detoxify the tuition fee fiasco the longer it remains an issue.Move on no one is convinced and no one is going to be convinced. This is because people know that £9’000 is more than £3000 and the pledges were on Youtube and everything.
    Honestly, stop going on and on about it. You’re picking at an old wound.

  • Peter Watson 24th Mar '14 - 11:51am

    @Richard Morris “Surely the point of tripling fees was to increase funding to the Universities – which it has done.”
    Has it? Other university funding was cut at the same time, hence the problems mentioned above at The Open University. The increased cost to the taxpayer described in the article is not because more money goes to universities, it is because less loan repayment than expected will be collected from graduates.

  • @AC Trussell
    Sorry but you are trying to conflate Manifesto Commitments with personal pledges. This is not about failing to phase out fees in line with the former, but voting to increase them in complete disregard of the latter.

    All Lib Dem MP’s signed a personal pledge to vote in a certain way and few did. It’s a simple question of personal integrity. I have no problem with compromise it is a reality of coalition, but if you personally promise something to those who vote for you and fail to carry it through you are lacking in integrity.

  • Maria Pretzler 24th Mar '14 - 12:55pm

    Sorry for not calling in later to post some replies.
    It’s been a rather busier weekend than I assumed it would be.

    It’s interesting how many replies are simply following the usual assumptions. LibDem trying to defend the policy, etc.

    I posted this after having a few discussions about the article online, and mostly because I am so fed up with the complete uselessness of the political debate about this, and on all sides, really.

    No party has covered itself in glory with this. Everybody knows that the LibDem campaigning and then (in my view inevitable, if in government) U-turning on it was a disaster. But Labour and the Conservatives have been messing with the system for years as well, and the Browne review was essentially set up to act as an excuse for a further rise and marketization. The arguments on all sides are so often based on political expediency and/or ideology, rather than on any kind of straightforward thinking of what universities are for (and higher education is just one part of the package – research is the other) and how much we should pay for it. The UK pays less for higher education than most other developed countries: this is the real problem. I am not convinced that voters are willing to put in more. Or that they would be willing to do so if that money would have to come from other pots, such as, say, the welfare budget.

    The original THES piece was sensible (the data is clearly correct, and quite a few of us in the sector saw this coming) – the Guardian merely showed how one can spin the whole thing all over again. As do many (though not all, thanks for some thoughtful discussion, too) of the replies here.

    If I could have my wish, we’d all sit down, look at the situation pragmatically and from first principles, stop the politicking, and design a university funding system from scratch. I suspect that at current participation levels (which I don’t see fall, but perhaps spread across ages a bit better) funding completely out of taxation is not going to be possible – but I’d like to hear arguments about that.

    Essentially, everybody who pretends that in the current political climate this issue doesn’t present a situation where everybody is trying to square up too many irreconcilable factors, while not wanting to tell the voters any uncomfortable truths, is simply deluding themselves.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 24th Mar '14 - 1:21pm

    Interesting debate but we are where we are – as other parties have also found themselves when coming into government. Any party which comes into government after years in opposition, will need to take stock with the help of the civil servants trusted to advise them. As an aside, I doubt the Lib Dems were advised on individual issues by the nation’s top civil servants before the coalition agreement was signed with the Tories. Now why would that be?

    It was clear before 2010 that university funding had to be developed further as it had not been supported sufficiently for the national need. There were big plans but insufficient funding at the time — expansion demanded but funding not available as GDP was shrinking fast.

    The biggest issue for the Tories is their concentration on ‘small state’ policies and not looking at the effects which are created by constantly reducing the state’s financial support for services on which we pride ourselves. Universities are such and need support if they are to be developed, especially if by government intervention

    With universities still a national treasure, we hope – paying for their progress and expansion needs continual updating by government. No political party will go back to Labour’s original position but will make changes once they have studied the current legislation and its effects – when they come into office; policies are often about the possible versus the inevitable. That’s why I don’t subscribe to the soul-searching that many others do. Get over it – without new pledges which we cannot deliver, please.

  • Peter Watson 24th Mar '14 - 1:29pm

    @Maria
    I agree with your post in this thread much more than I did with the original article.
    I think you are entirely correct to suggest that we should “sit down, look at the situation pragmatically and from first principles, stop the politicking, and design a university funding system from scratch.” This would be much more useful than attacking or defending the terrible (IMHO) position into which Lib Dem MPs and leaders have dumped the party.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 24th Mar '14 - 1:33pm

    Thanks for your update Maria – Universities are so important to the nation, and all citizens therefore, that they need good financing. I’m sure it will be a balancing action. How does Scotland manage to give full tuition support? I think I know but could we do the same in England and Wales?

  • Maria your final sentence is rather complex —
    “.. Essentially, everybody who pretends that in the current political climate this issue doesn’t present a situation where everybody is trying to square up too many irreconcilable factors, while not wanting to tell the voters any uncomfortable truths, is simply deluding themselves. ”

    Who are the “everybody who pretends” that finally end up “simply deluding themselves”?
    Are they the ones who agree with you, or are they the ones who disagree with you?

    The phrase you use about people “not wanting to tell the others any uncomfortable truths” usually translates into “people who disagree with me not wanting to tell others that I am right”. Or it does when Some people use it. 🙂

  • @ AC Trussell – “However, it does seem strange to me that practically no one on this page and outside – in the real world, can get it into their heads that Coalitions means both partners have to agree to accept something they would not otherwise do.Why do people talk as if the Lib/Dems won the election? If they had, the fees would have been reduced over six years- BUT THEY DIDN’T!”

    This is not true. I wrote, “I do believe that the current system is the best we could have got in COALITION” and other people often express the same view on this site.

    @ Chris – “Obviously, it was a way of both increasing total funding to universities and reducing the government’s contribution to that funding. That was fundamental to the whole discussion about fees.”

    Having looked at the Browne review I think the government reduced the support by 30% of about £7,500 making £5,250. The student had their payments increased from 3,000 to 6,000 so the University gets £11,250 instead of £10,500. However if the fees are above 6,000 the government pays less and the university receives about half of the amount above 6,000 so the government only pays about £3,750 and the university receives about £12,750. However I might be wrong because I haven’t look at the final regulations. If someone has the correct information can they post it?

  • Maria Pretzler 24th Mar '14 - 1:57pm

    John Tilley:
    Well, I guess I am saying that the situation is this:
    – this is a difficult issue and there are no simple solutions.
    – political arguments about this, on all sides, including the LibDems but also Labour, the Tories, the Greens and the SNP have been disingenuous, shockingly opportunistic and therefore mostly damaging.
    – the situation is complex and any solution would mean that somebody actually has to tell the voters some uncomfortable truths about university funding and access.
    – in the meantime, the university system is going down the drain.

    If you disagree with any of the above points, yes, I think you may be deluding yourself.

    Few people want to talk about the situation and if you see the feedback in this thread (including your gut-reaction) it’s not hard to understand why. I am not sure whether a sensible discussion is possible.

  • Maria Pretzler 24th Mar '14 - 1:59pm

    Tony Roan-Wicks: you know? I would love to know.

    What I see in Scotland is a pretty hard pressed university system. Apparently admissions departments are contacted by the Scottish government to stop taking Scottish students and take more outsiders in order to make the system viable at all. The SNP will keep it up till the next election, but it’s likely to change eventually.

    The situation in Wales is nothing short of disastrous, as the Welsh government is sending a lot of its HE budget to England with students who prefer to study in the better funded universities outside Wales.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks,

    It is extremely important that you and other Liberal Democrats understand that there was no issue with HE funding, other than the usual concerns, prior to the coalition’s tuition fees policy. This policy was intended to transfer the burden of HE costs from general taxation to the students themselves. It was not because there was a fundamental problem with HE funding.

    Since 2010 academic pay has dropped in real terms, research funding has shrunk slightly, teaching funding has shrunk greatly. Universities are now starting to instigate redundancy policies, currently voluntary, but compulsory is almost certain. The sector is entering a funding crisis, and now we find there will be even less money in the future.

    It is only going to get worse.

    This needs a cross party political solution, not post hoc rationalisations based on a flawed understanding, or worse.

    Tuition fees was a gamble that the Liberal Democrats lost. At the very least I’d expect the party to hold those that gambled to account.

  • Peter Watson seems to have grasped the key point “The increased cost to the taxpayer described in the article is not because more money goes to universities, it is because less loan repayment than expected will be collected from graduates.”

    The issue isn’t whether UK universities should or shouldn’t charge fee’s – they should. It is how the UK government navigates the various obstacles, to assist UK students with the paying of these fee’s.

    Hence relevant questions are: to what extent should UK students/graduates be solely responsible for the repayment of their fees, should we (UK society) be making a contribution, what is a fair and equitable way of distributing the burden of repayment across graduates.

    Also we shouldn’t forget that we don’t have to pay in arrears, one of the key intent’s of the (now defunct) child trust fund was to provide a savings vehicle to provide funds for a child’s university education.

  • @Tony Rowan-Wicks:

    The first thing to understand is how desperately little the UK spends on its universities. The amount of public money going into our university sector is dramatically lower than other nations in the OECD. This was true before the tuition fees change. This is partially offset by more money from other sources going in, in particular the UK has traditionally been a top destination for foreign students (in particular India and China) but the utter insanity of the coalition’s policies on non-EU immigration is severely undermining these links.

    The second thing to understand is that UK students were already getting a shockingly poor deal on tertiary education. Excluding the extraordinary outlier of the US system almost no other developed nation saddles its students with such a debt at the very start of their life.

    The third thing to understand is that, even if arguments about financing were valid, tuition fees are bad policy because of the impact they have on university education. Students are NOT customers and treating them as if they are is bad for their education and bad for the priorities of the university sector. There is not, and never can be, an effective market in education because, by definition, students are incapable of effectively judging the quality of the product they are buying in advance because they will only acquire the knowledge they require to make these judgements by actually doing the degree. An A-level students cannot have a valid opinion on whether (for example) its better for them to study Galois Theory or Ergodic Theory in the course of the BSc in Mathematics (those are both real topics, in case anyone is wondering).

  • If I was designing a HE funding system I wouldn’t start from here. The Lib Dems don’t have the credibility to put forward a proposal as the core of our manifesto, and on any other basis, we are unlikely to convince either other party of the merits of our position.

    But let’s start by working out what the questions should be:

    First, how much money, per-student, do universities need to provide a proper education? Is £9000 about right, too much, or not enough? I certainly don’t know.

    Second, what is an appropriate fraction of the age-cohort to enter HE? 50% is so obviously a convenient round number that it has to be a political number, not one based on a study of educational needs. But I don’t know of any other studies.

    The answers to those two questions determine the teaching budget needed for undergraduates. I honestly have no idea how much these numbers are, and clearly they affect the balance between the funding elements for undergraduate education.

    There are then a separate set of questions about the other three main elements of the HE system – post graduate teaching (master’s degrees, mostly, but also professional qualifications like PGCE, LPC, BPTC, etc); academic research – for which there can be some commercial support in some disciplines, but there needs to be a source of funding that is independent; and PhD students, who are a combination of researcher, student and (often) teacher, as they assist in the education of undergraduates.

    I would hope that we can fund undergraduate education separately from the other parts of HE funding – but that does pose the question of whether we start writing contracts for academics that explicitly treat them as x% teacher (100-x)% researcher.

    Returning to undergraduate education on the assumption that we can disentangle it from research and postgraduate education:

    Third, where the money is coming from and how much each part should offer?

    This last question is one I feel I can pose part of an answer to, unlike the first two.

    There are several places that funding can come from for undergraduates:
    Themselves, by working while studying, or by saving before they start their education.
    Their parents, presuming those parents have sufficient surplus income
    Graduates, by paying back a loan or through a graduate tax.
    Taxpayers generally, through state funding. [Aside, for foreign students, this doesn’t mean UK taxpayers]
    Their future employers, through a levy of some description.

    It strikes me that first, the first two are best achieved through a voluntary system, where later graduate repayment is lessened in exchange for early contributions. There’s no realistic prospect of compelling parents to pay for their offspring, and it’s cruel in the extreme for students – who are adults, after all – to be forced into dependency on their parents by denying them access to other forms of funding; it’s demonstrably failed many LGBT+ students who have been disowned and defunded by parents who won’t accept their son/daughter’s sexuality or trans* status, while the student has no access to other funds because their parents are well-off.

    This is one reason why I dislike a pure tax-funding system; rich parents will pay for their (suitably-compliant) sons and daughters to attend university; if they have access to tax funding too, then they will certainly avail themselves of that also, making for some remarkably large student incomes.

    Students working while studying is a good thing in moderation, but very few will be able to earn enough in few enough hours to both support themselves and pay for tuition; allowing students to reduce the cost of their maintenance support by earning, though, is a pretty good way to both enable students to acquire the discipline of work and lower the cost of their education.

    Given that any employer levy will discourage the hiring of graduates (even if you make it illegal to discriminate, it still will) and will give graduates a strong incentive to go abroad where their employers will be immune to the levy, I doubt that anything other than a voluntary approach (ie signing-bonuses from employers to repay part or all of a loan) could work.

    So that leaves general taxation, loan, and graduate taxation as the main funding sources.

    For general taxation, we need to have a think about how much; I worry that raising taxes too high means that we create a brain drain where, after graduation, there are lots of people who are highly employable, who find it easy to move to another country, as few will have children or mortgages tying them down, and who will find it easy to get visas and work permits elsewhere – why pay for their education through taxes if they can move to another country and not pay those taxes?

    It seems to me that this is also a near-perfect example of John Rawls’ veil of ignorance. At 18, entering HE, students have little idea how much they will earn. While some fraction of their earnings potential will be determined by their own abilities and application, there are certainly many other factors and uncertainties. I suspect that, if you asked the future City yuppies at 18, they would have happily agreed to pay a larger share of their future large salaries (then still only potential) in exchange for the certainty of not paying much if their future salaries turned out to be much lower.

    I was also thinking about this from an investor’s point of view. I think that students are pretty comparable to small start-up companies. A small fraction, one or two per cent, are going to make a lot of money. A large fraction, about half, are going to do OK, and pay back more-or-less what you put in,and the other half will bring back next to nothing. You don’t know which are which in advance – so you invest in lots of them on an equity basis, so you get a share of the fortune of the few that make one, and that covers the costs.

    Our current loans system has the sensible (equity-style) basis that if they don’t make much money, they should have to pay it back. Look at the horrors of the American system of non-income-contingent loans if you don’t get why this is necessary. But to make that self-financing, you need the small number of high-earners to contribute much more. Remember that the top 1% pay 30+% of income tax, but they will pay for only 2% of student finance under the loans system.

    The problem with a traditional graduate tax is that (a) it discourages foreign graduates from moving to the UK, [or, if foreign degrees do not accrue graduate tax, then it creates a loophole for Brits to deliberately not graduate, transfer all their credits abroad, do one module and graduate there], (b) it even more strongly encourages Brits to graduate and move abroad than general taxation does.

    My suggestion is that we make the deal explicit and contractual. Students borrow enough to cover their tuition, and then can elect to borrow more for maintenance up to a limit; they can earn on top of their maintenance loan, and they can receive support from their parents or other family/friends too. Taxpayer finance might also reduce their borrowings.

    Then, there is a calculation done based on their total borrowings that determines a percentage rate from their future income – the more they borrow, the higher the percentage (set a cap at 15% or so). This would not be a repayment, so there’s no interest calculation. It’s just that (say, and as a simplification) for every £5,000 you borrow, you pay back 1% of your future income above a threshold for 30 years after graduation (that’s the current term for income contingent loans). This is on all income, not just UK-taxable income, so if you move abroad, then you’re still liable – it’s a contract, not a tax.

    Obviously there would be a few places to evade it (Northern Cyprus, etc) but the vast majority of students would have the same liability wherever they are in the world.

    The small number of high earners would then make much larger contributions, compensating for the larger number of lower earners and ensuring that the student finance system as a whole stays solvent. It’s the bit people miss when they compare it to a graduate tax. If the current system is a tax, then it’s a pretty regressive one, because if you earn a lot of money then you pay the whole debt off and then never pay any “tax” ever again.

    Now, the question of how much the state (taxpayer) contribution should be, and how much the graduate contribution should be is another question. But I don’t see why rich graduates should pay less (in proportion to their incomes) than anyone else – clearly, they’re the ones who benefitted most from their educations, so why shouldn’t they pay the most for their educations?

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Mar '14 - 4:40pm

    Chris Manners

    I’m not close enough to it to know whether the extra money for universities has been spent well, The only students I know have gone to the same universities they would anyway, and got their heads down, like they would anyway.

    What extra money?

    Some seem actually to believe the tripling of tuition fees meant a tripling of money going to universities. It didn’t. University degrees always cost that much, the tripling of fees just compensates for the withdrawal of the government subsidy that used to pay for university education.

    If tuition fees had not been tripled, the money would still have to be paid, so anyone who opposes it really needs to say WHERE it would come from. Much of the discussion on this issue seems to be on the basis that there’s a money tree that can be shaken to provide it. Unless there was something more taxed, it would have to be paid for by government borrowing, which would still fall on the heads of the next generation. Putting in terms of individual debt makes this reality a lot more stark, but underneath there’s not as big a difference as one might suppose from the debate on this sort of thing.

    I’m certainly not keen on the loans and debt system, my preference would be for it to be paid for through state subsidy through taxation – I would like to see inheritance tax raised to pay for it, as I think that would be appropriate. I realise that people don’t like talking about higher taxes, but to me anyone who opposes the rise in tuition fees but won’t talk about such things should be ignored as they have nothing useful to contribute. Too much political debate in this country takes the childish view that talks about need for more expenditure but not where the money is to come from, or makes a big thing boasting about tax cuts without a hint of how this also means cuts in government services – and, yes, I AM getting at the recent “Isn’t it wonderful, we’ve given you an £800 tax cut” message from the party centrally here. Sorry, putting it just like that was childish, as a consequence I’m definitely not getting involved in any party campaigning this year, as I don’t want to be associated with such childishness.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Mar '14 - 4:53pm

    daft ha’p’orth

    As for this stuff about how students apparently get a better student experience because paying more money makes them pushier, several of my colleagues have left teaching because the university increasingly expected them to pass inadequate work. Students have paid so much to enter that there must be prizes for all

    Yes, this is a good point. I work as a university lecturer, and I’m sorry to say I haven’t seen much of an improvement in student attendance and work levels since the new fee system was brought in. Students do seem to see it as “funny money” and don’t actually sit down and realise that if they don’t attend lectures and labs, don’t do the work, don’t look carefully at the feedback I give them when they mark their work, in effect they are not taking what they are paying for. There does instead seem to be an attitude that a they are paying for it, we have a duty to pass them.

    Given that failing a student, or deregistering them for non-attendance means a direct loss of fees, there really is no incentive on lecturers to keep up standards, or to put the effort into monitoring attendance and imposing sanctions on those who don’t do the work and thus either push the failure rate up, or drag standards down as pass requirements have to be reduced so that those who have done hardly any work still get a pass. There is a huge pressure from students who seem to think that a “lecture” means running through power point slides with a few short slogans they can memorise, with exams based on memory dump of these slogans. If you give them teaching that encourages them to think, quite often you are subject to complaints.

  • Maria Pretzler 24th Mar '14 - 6:10pm

    g,
    you said: “It is extremely important that you and other Liberal Democrats understand that there was no issue with HE funding, other than the usual concerns, prior to the coalition’s tuition fees policy.”

    This is completely wrong. UK universities were creaking at the seams already – one of the reasons for setting up the Browne Review was a recognition of that, combined with an unwillingness to commit more public money to saving the HE sector.

    English universities are now getting more money – to the point where UCU is saying that the coffers are full. There is a real issue about serious mismanagement and a complete lack of oversight, so that VCs are clearly not spending the money where they should spend it. But the idea that there wasn’t a funding issue, or that there isn’t more money coming to English universities now, is simply wrong.

  • Maria Pretzler 24th Mar '14 - 6:21pm

    Matthew Huntbach is right in saying that the tripling of fees did not mean a tripling of funding for universities. Despite the cut in teaching grants. however, there is still, as far as I am aware, more money in most institutions. There have been losers in the system, but on the whole, universities should be less starved of money than they were. The fact that there is still a real squeeze on academics, particularly because the sector now depends on so much teaching on fixed term contracts, or paid by the hour, is a real scandal – but that’s not because it’s not affordable (compare the same development in the US).

    The quality-for-fees argument cuts both ways. For some reason, students like to measure quality by contact hours, and then, when those hours are offered, choose not to turn up. There is an issue with contact hours: in the humanities only so many make sense. You don’t teach somebody independent thinking by doing a lot more spoon-feeding.

    My head of department says that in a way, it is like gym membership: we are expected to provide good facilities and excellent ‘trainers’, but in the end, even though you pay, the outcome still depends on your own work, and there aren’t really any shortcuts to understanding and proper independent thinking. There are areas where our students have become more demanding with good justification, and I really won’t mind people being shown up when they essentially pay minimal attention to teaching because research is all that counts. Until recently, that was the way to get ahead, and this is shifting, and rightly so.

    I think one thing also needs to be pointed out: some people like to point at some countries on the continent, where there are no fees. I did my undergraduate degree in Austria, and while my humanities degree had small numbers and was excellent, I also did some science at university. I remember one lecture where, ten minutes before the start, I was the last person to squeeze into the room, to get the last square foot which was free, and that was under the overhead projector. There were about twice as many students in that room than there were seats, and we are talking about a big lecture theatre. I remember appointment lists where you would hope to get an appointment with a supervisor within the next two months. I tend to see students within 48 hours, but really on the next day if at all possible.

    Education is never free, it always needs to be paid for. The question is what we are willing to pay for it, and what ‘we’ means in this context.

  • “… the tripling of fees just compensates for the withdrawal of the government subsidy that used to pay for university education. “

    Do you have any evidence for that assertion? The figures in the Browne report suggest that overall university income should have risen by at least 10% as a result of the changes.

  • A Social Liberal 24th Mar '14 - 7:38pm

    Mathew Huntbach asked

    “If tuition fees had not been tripled, the money would still have to be paid, so anyone who opposes it really needs to say WHERE it would come from.”

    Where did you think it would come from when you defended it on the doorstep in 2010. I was told that it was properly costed out along with the other promises we made. Are you saying it wasn’t?

  • daft ha'p'orth 24th Mar '14 - 8:15pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    I am not surprised that it doesn’t change students’ attitudes significantly. Many students are likely to cope either by resigning themselves to the issue or ignoring it entirely. If ‘large debt’ does not focus a student’s mind, then ‘massive debt’ will not do so either. Students have to adjust to living with the fact of debt. Once they have adjusted it is a fact of life for them. It may be an additional source of stress for the proportion of students whose coping mechanism does not involve ignoring the fact of that debt entirely, but it doesn’t nullify all of the far more immediate stresses, struggles and self-discoveries that go along with the process of learning to learn.

    @Maria Pretzler
    And yet since all this money you mention flooded into the university system, in the last two years in fact, I’ve seen many dozens of redundancies and several closed departments. I’ve also lived through redundancy myself, losing a job I’d held for over a decade without a whisper of prior financial trouble. This is one reason why I currently keep two jobs: I don’t trust my employers, I don’t trust HEFCE and I don’t trust government. That, actually, may well be the reason why institutions are hoarding; they don’t trust HEFCE or the government either and they are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Looks like a gold-plated cock-up from where I’m standing.

    Tell me, if the focus is shifting from research to teaching, why did the last staff meeting I went to culminate in a warning that the university planned to drop teaching departments that were not in the top quartile of REF results? Why, if the focus is shifting from research to teaching, is my other employer hiring permatemps so their full-time employees can do research whilst I deal with the students? Simple: research is still what matters. Today’s funding approach incentivises departments to exploit a bunch of associate lecturers to keep the students happy whilst using the bulk of the money to do their own thing, which as you say is how the USA does things too. Tenure/a permanent role/research grants requires you to succeed in research, not teaching. My employers have made the astute decision that teaching is an inexpensive sideline to be handled as cheaply as possible. To ensure their continued existence, the majority of income needs to be used elsewhere.

    As regards overcrowded universities, yes, I did my undergraduate science degree in similar circumstances, and frankly I have one major complaint about it, which is that my sight was not good enough to read the blackboard from the back of the room, so my notetaking suffered. Since then, of course, they have invented the VLE, so the availability of written notes is less likely to be an issue.

    We need to talk very seriously about funding for teaching and (separately, for once) research and administration, what is really required to make an adequate (not plush iPad theme-park mobile buzzword BS) student experience, and discuss where the money really goes, before we focus on numbers of bums on seats and ‘maximising student satisfaction’.

  • Maria Pretzler 24th Mar '14 - 10:24pm

    daft ha’p’orth –
    I am sorry that you are one of the many who are on the receiving end of increasing casualization in universities. I think this is actually a strategy on the part of universities. In the humanities, the trend is towards temporary teaching posts and teaching paid by the hour, so as to save the more costly teaching/research posts where some of the time paid is for research.

    I hear the threats concerning the REF as well – but there are interesting counter-currents in terms of the messages we are getting at my institution. Teaching income matters. I bet my department would have been cut already if our understaffed teaching didn’t subsidise the teaching at precious sciences who hardly recruit any students but get a lot of research income.

    Of course, I am in Wales, and my university really is strapped for cash, due to the entirely misguided policy of the Welsh government to buy votes with the higher education budget, universities be damned. But English universities, on the whole, are not doing too badly. But the money goes into new swanky buildings, PR departments, even VCs’ speechwriters (in one extreme example).

    Of course, the Russell group will keep up the ‘research-led’ rhetoric for even longer, and outsource even more teaching to cheap, exploitable temporary staff they don’t pay over summer. But in England, the financial situation of most universities (except those which really fail to recruit, and there aren’t that many, I think) is not all that bad, really.

  • Maria Pretzler 24th Mar '14 - 10:33pm

    Three useful links on the issues I touched upon above. They all happen to be from the Guardian – I think they have been on a roll lately, actually trying to think about what’s going wrong in universities. One big issue is that there is no functioning oversight of university management at most universities.

    http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/feb/04/academic-casual-contracts-higher-education

    http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/mar/24/cost-private-contracts-universities-documents-services-workers

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/03/new-breed-fat-cats-university-boss-vice-chancellors

  • If we’re going to go back to first principles and design the ideal funding system – perhaps we should look at what other countries do. The common position in Europe is low tuition fees – a fraction of the UK’s – with the rest met from general taxation.

    This makes sense to me. I was one of those traditionalists who used to believe in 100% funding from taxation, but, that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny when so many students (used to) booze their way through three easy years. There has to be some incentive for students to take study seriously, or else go away and do something else. But yes, the taxpayer should fund the majority. It would be a bit of redistribution, sorely needed, from old to young.

    Graduate tax? Well, superficially it makes sense to get those who became wealthy thanks to their studies to pay for the next generation of students. But then one asks, does that mean there is a good reason to exempt from this payment those who became wealthy without studying, so they earned their money from things like estate agency or pro football that don’t need a degree, rather than things like hospital consultancy that do? Should we actively discriminate in favour of high incomes and wealth that don’t require professional expertise? Because that’s what a graduate tax, as opposed to old-fashioned progressive taxation, does for you.

    I suspect graduate tax is only floated because it acts to hide a high marginal tax rate on high incomes, which Laffer curvers nowadays pretend is beyond the pale. Let’s be honest about it, the Lafferites are talking nonsense, and we shouldn’t need a deception mechanism like graduate taxation to deal with them. We just need a progressive tax system to help pay for university tuition.

  • Maria Pretzler 25th Mar '14 - 8:21am

    I am all for progressive taxation, but you can’t make this argument in isolation.

    The question is always this: if you manage to introduce more progressive taxation and actually raise a few extra billions, what would you do with it? Is the first thing you do essentially a tax cut for middle-aged, middle-earning graduates (i.e. the people actually paying those fees loans now)?

    If you want to do something proper to redistribute from wealthy to poorer and from older to younger, you’d probably invest more in FE and apprenticeships, make sure that further education is properly supported, with maintenance grants where needed. Who doesn’t anybody ever talk about that? If you want to support students at universities, maintenance grants would be the best way to help (probably means tested, to make the money go further for those who need it most).

    Of course, that’s only after realising that you can only spend that extra tax revenue once, and it’s very likely that almost any party would prioritise other things first…. disability benefits, for example, and social housing. Or children from deprived backgrounds in the early years.

    The problem is that this issue of HE funding doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
    If you listen to everybody who has been shouting about it, has anybody actually come up with a serious alternative?
    Labour isn’t going to scrap these fees,

    NUS did a VERY quiet U-turn about two years ago, when they stopped protesting against the fees and started demanding that they be enshrined in law (I assume this is when they found out the figures which are set out in the Guardian article which triggered this post).

    Thus, w e can come up with favourite funding models, but do they hold up if we look at them in context?

  • Where to start…

    “The question is always this: if you manage to introduce more progressive taxation and actually raise a few extra billions, what would you do with it? Is the first thing you do essentially a tax cut for middle-aged, middle-earning graduates (i.e. the people actually paying those fees loans now)?”

    Given that the current fees system massively disproportionately hits middle-earning graduates who pay a far higher proportion of their salaries than those on low incomes and those on high incomes then, yes. However, it isn’t possible to give them a tax-cut given that fees are not a tax. What would be fair is if the payments were at least proportional to income – at the moment they fail that definition by being massively regressive. Furthermore, people aren’t paying those fees now, as the first cohort of students under the new system haven’t begun to repay their fees yet.

    “Education is never free, it always needs to be paid for. The question is what we are willing to pay for it, and what ‘we’ means in this context.”

    You seem to be about ten years behind the debate here and, besides, everyone knows that education isn’t free. What is the point of creating that straw-man? Everyone realises that the debate was (quite important to use the past tense here given the long history of the Lib Dems and their distinctive policy on fees) about who should pay in terms of graduates/non-graduates, different income groups, etc. What angers people is that the Lib Dems are now supporting a policy they introduced as law that flies in the face of the party’s long-held commitments. These debates took place years before the event. You are now pretending that no debate took place before the event, that the Lib Dems in government had no choice about what happened and that maybe it’s time for people to start thinking about the debate. Do you really have no comprehension about how rage-provoking your comments are to any informed member of the electorate that voted Lib Dem on the issue of tuition fees?

    “If you want to support students at universities, maintenance grants would be the best way to help”

    Again, you seem to miss the whole point of the debate and the whole principle of how the tuition fee system works. The tripling of tuition fees was an issue about the level of debt that graduates would leave university with. Given that fees are not paid upfront, the issue was never about supporting undergraduates through their studies.

    “If you listen to everybody who has been shouting about it, has anybody actually come up with a serious alternative?”

    “NUS did a VERY quiet U-turn about two years ago, when they stopped protesting against the fees and started demanding that they be enshrined in law (I assume this is when they found out the figures which are set out in the Guardian article which triggered this post).”

    Well, there once was a party called the Liberal Democrats who had long debates about these issues, together with policies and manifesto commitments, who, after those informed debates, decided that HE should be funded through progressive taxation or even a penny increase in income taxation. The NUS has a very clear policy of removing fees altogether and paying for HE through progressive taxation – they previously had a policy of no fees but with a mix of a limited graduate tax and progressive general taxation. In fact, there are many organisations with policies on the funding of HE that have had a long debate with subsequent informed policies. Why do you dismiss anyone that disagrees with you as not having previously thought about the issue and why do you label people with different opinions to yourself as being deluded?

    With regards to the Browne report, why did he call for an 80% reduction in the teaching budgets to HE institutions to accompany the increased fees? Browne was very clearly, for the most significant part, about who pays for HE and how they pay for it.

  • AC Trussell 25th Mar '14 - 9:43am

    @daft ha’p’orth
    Sorry ,I thought it was all about money.

    I wonder: if manifesto promises are personal to those that write/support them -they will be personal promises. And isn’t a promise a pledge?:

    Election PROMISES ARE PLEDGES that will be later shaped by politics and the cooperation of individuals.:
    Pierce D.Promise.Journal of Occupational Science(2012), 19 (4):298-311

  • AC Trussell

    It’s really extremely simple:

    (1) A party is in a position to carry out its manifesto commitments only if it wins the election with an overall majority.
    (2) A candidate who promises to vote in a certain way on a particular issue is in a position to keep that promise, provided s/he is elected.

    I’m sure that when people try to defend the indefensible they only make matters worse.

  • daft ha'p'orth 25th Mar '14 - 11:40am

    @AC Trussell
    “Sorry ,I thought it was all about money.”
    Indeed.

    As for the Journal of Occupational Science, I have just read the paper referenced by that Wikipedia citation. Nothing wrong with the paper as a review of occupational science, but the discussion of the term ‘promise’ is brief, skeletal and contains no literature review at all, as well as not incidentally coming from a different discipline. Politics does have a literature of its own. If you want an impassioned defence of politicians’ rights to be two-faced deceptive sods, you might instead try

    Hatier, Cécile. “‘Them’and ‘us’: demonising politicians by moral double standards.” Contemporary Politics 18.4 (2012): 467-480.

    Even this article is not entirely appreciative of falsehood in politics, though. Despite taking the view that “voters should be used to their politicians making unrealistic promises during election campaigns, and should therefore know better than to take their word for it”, even Hatier remarks that “That is not to say that people are wrong in wanting a stricter type of accountability: several scholars would back them on this, such as Lowell (2007) who insists that ‘it is not so much lies themselves that undermine our political system, but the inability to bring liars to account’”.

    @Maria Pretzler
    “has anybody actually come up with a serious alternative?”
    It seems to me that this thread exists only because it has now become evident that the current system is not a serious alternative.

  • A C Trussell “.Why do people talk as if the Lib/Dems won the election? If they had, the fees would have been reduced over six years- BUT THEY DIDN’T!”

    Well see this is what confuses me: didn’t Nick Clegg apologise for promising something they couldn’t deliver because the country couldn’t afford it ( having told us that the policy was ” fully costed” and deliverable, before the election? He did NOT say what you are saying, namely that if Lib Dems had won the election, he would have honoured the manifesto commitment and the personal pledge. So it’s nothing to do with being in a Coalition.

  • The priority seems to be childcare for worki g parents and free school meals for infants – even when parents of these children are relatively well-off, rather than higher education. Co-incidentally both Cameron and Clegg have school age children. Maybe we’d have seen a different policy if both PM and DPM had 18 year olds…..

  • I love the way tuition fees have been spun as progressive taxation by re-defining ‘progressive’ and by re-defining ‘taxation’. Personally, I think tuition fees are bananas, based on my definition of the word ‘bananas’. It doesn’t make any sense, but then again neither has anything the Lib Dems have said about tuition fees for the last four years.

  • Phyllis – childcare is a priority because it is of benefit to the economy as a whole. Funding university study from general taxation is just a middle-class subsidy.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Mar '14 - 1:35pm

    A Social Liberal

    Mathew Huntbach asked

    “If tuition fees had not been tripled, the money would still have to be paid, so anyone who opposes it really needs to say WHERE it would come from.”

    Where did you think it would come from when you defended it on the doorstep in 2010. I was told that it was properly costed out along with the other promises we made. Are you saying it wasn’t?

    Sorry, who is “you” here? Why are you addressing me as if I am the collective voice of the Liberal Democrats?

    This is what makes me DESPAIR about the way arguments go on this website. It seems one is supposed to be in either one two groups. Either you’re a “nah-nah-nah-nah-nah, dirty rotten LibDems, you just rolled over and gave in to the Tories, you are just a bunch of opportunists” attacker, or you’re a mindless party supporter who is assumed to be in 100% agreement with everything that the Leader and those surrounding him say or do.

    So, I spend a lot of my time on this newsgroup being very critical of Clegg and the Cleggies, because I think they have done an appallingly bad job of leading the party, they’ve made mistake after mistake after mistake. However, as soon as I t urn round and don’t accept the usual mindless “nah-nah-nah-nah-nah” attacks and say something a bit critical of them, I’m addressed if suddenly I have become a brainwashed party loyalist, as if I’m only saying what I’m saying because I’m 100% committed the Party Line, whatever that might be this week.

    Not being the collective voice of the Liberal Democrats, or having any responsibility for writing the party’s 2010 manifesto or directing its campaign, how do you suppose, “Social Liberal” I am to answer your question, and why do you put it in that way? I think it is up to those who told us it was all fully costed to answer that question.

    Personally, I think given the prominence given to that policy, we should have been prepared to introduce whatever extra tax was needed to pay for it. That is, indeed, the point I’m getting at now. The problem, of course, is that the Tories would be breaking their deepest election promises if they were to go along with such taxes – remember that the CORE of what the Tories stand for us that they are the Non-workers Party, the party that defends wealth and income gained from owning things rather than from working. Cameron has demonstrated this just recently by his speech calling for cuts in inheritance tax. According to him, we must reward the enterprise of people who lived many years ago by letting their descendants live lazy lives thanks to dollops of untaxed cash given to them. I’d pay for university subsidy by increasing inheritance tax to whatever is needed to cover it myself. And I think anyone else who wants “free” university tuition should be equally firm on what they would do to pay for it, given that universities are not really free, us lecturers do expect to be paid etc.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Mar '14 - 1:50pm

    daft ha’p’orth

    Simple: research is still what matters.

    One reason for this is that most applicants for undergraduate places have no idea what makes one university “better” than another, so tend to rely on the league tables. This is what I found when I was my department’s admission tutor – it did not matter what you did, if you were the highest placed university in the league tables for an individual applicant, you got that applicant, if the applicant got an offer from a university higher up the league table you NEVER got that applicant.

    The league tables are mostly determined by research ranking, partly directly, partly indirectly. For example, suppose in university A the staff spend on average 50% of their time on research and 50% on teaching, and in university B the staff spend 100% of their time on teaching. Suppose university A has twice as many staff as university B, but the same number of students. It would APPEAR that university A has twice as good a staff-student ratio as B and that’s what goes into the league tables, but in terms of teaching contact they’re the same. Then because A is considered “better”, it gets all the high-grade applicants, and that also contributes to it being high in the league tables.

    Diverting money and energy from research to teaching just means you slip down the league tables, and the better students turn away from you. It’s a vicious circle, get weaker students, who need more hand-holding in teaching, so more effort, so less time left to do research, so fall down further.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Mar '14 - 2:01pm

    Steve

    You seem to be about ten years behind the debate here and, besides, everyone knows that education isn’t free. What is the point of creating that straw-man?

    Oh, come on. The debate about university tuition fees has been dominated by those opposing them talking about “free” education, see the letters in today’s Guardian newspaper for example. I’ve come across so many people who really think the tripling of university tuition fees meant universities were getting three time as much money, they just never realised that it was balanced by a drop in state subsidy.

    If we were to have an honest debate about it, those opposing university tuition fees would be open about the reality that they are calling for state subsidy, and therefore accept this means higher taxation and give some indication where they think that could come from.

    How great it would be if every protestor about university tuition fees carried a banner which said on one side “free university education” and on the other side “paid for by inheritance tax”. But I get the feeling that too many of the protesting sort are from the sort of social backgrounds where they wouldn’t be willing to put their money where their mouths are like that.

    I say again – Cameron has come out now stating he wants to cut inheritance tax, he wants the children of the rich to get big dollops of untaxed cash, he want to reward the idle rich by letting them stay rich without working like us plebs have to work. He gets away with this because those who argue for more state spending don’t have the guts or honesty to stand up and argue against the Tories when they come out with things like that.

  • AC Trussell 25th Mar '14 - 2:05pm

    As we seem to have left the article in the Guardian for the usual attack on the Lib/Dems- how about this:
    The Lib/Dems that pledged to vote against the increase in student fees ; and then did so, did so for the greater good of a strong stable Coalition.
    It will be seen as weak by a lot – but I don’t think it was easy.

  • “Cameron has come out now stating he wants to cut inheritance tax, he wants the children of the rich to get big dollops of untaxed cash, he want to reward the idle rich by letting them stay rich without working like us plebs have to work.”

    Yes of course he supports this because that’s what Tory voters want, he is looking after his natural supporters so that they will vote for him again. That’s also why (well-off) pensioner benefits are here to stay. The Lib Dem leadership on the other hand seem to do everything possible to alienate their natural voters. Why for the love of God do they not learn from the Tories who are still holding their own in the polls despite being ‘in government’ .

  • Given that Labour are almost certain to want to change the system by replacing with a graduate tax or by lowering the cap to £6000, would the Lib Dems fight against such measures in a coalition?

  • Peter Watson 25th Mar '14 - 8:05pm

    @AC Trussell “The Lib/Dems that pledged to vote against the increase in student fees ; and then did so, did so for the greater good of a strong stable Coalition. It will be seen as weak by a lot – but I don’t think it was easy.”
    When you say “and then did so” do you mean “and then did not do so”?
    I would certainly agree that those who kept to their pledge were not weak (including at least one Conservative IIRC), especially given the effort the Lib Dem whips seem to have been putting into making them change their minds (https://www.libdemvoice.org/alistair-carmichael-on-chris-huhne-he-put-the-t-in-cancun-38644.html).
    I would grudgingly accept that the Lib Dems who broke their pledge and voted for an increase might not be weak however wrong they were to do so.
    However, I would argue that those who, like Simon Hughes, deliberately abstained were very weak indeed, trying to have their cake and eat it (as we return to the theme for this thread … 😉 )

  • @AC Trussell
    It wasn’t weak, it was underhand and showed a lack of integrity. If it were to be seen as a move to provide coalition stability then Clegg should have apologised and explained straight away. According to everything I’ve seen to date regarding the coalition negotiations it was never even pressed as a priority, let alone the red line it should have been.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Mar '14 - 10:13pm

    Phyllis

    Yes of course he supports this because that’s what Tory voters want, he is looking after his natural supporters so that they will vote for him again. That’s also why (well-off) pensioner benefits are here to stay.

    Well, they also have the benefit of a press that is largely favourable to them, so mostly repeats and supports their propaganda on this issue, and does not point out the logical contradictions in it, whereas the opposite applies to the Liberal Democrats – almost every element of the press is against the party and does all it can to report it in as negative a way as possible.

    The logical contradiction is that the Tories go on and on about being the party that supports hard work and believes it should be rewarded, yet opposing inheritance tax is the opposite of this, it is supporting the idea of people getting rich NOT by hard work but just by being the children of rich parents. They have invented this phrase “weath creator” which they use to mean any rich person, but it is a ridiculous one, because being rich does not mean you have created wealth. You might just as well call rich people “wealth absorbers”, people who absorb the wealth created by others. That would certainly be accurate for those who make their money out of what they own, people who put their inherited wealth into pushing up house prices so that those who need them can’t afford to buy so instead gave to rent from those same people who pushed them up and bought them as “buy to let”.

    The Lib Dem leadership on the other hand seem to do everything possible to alienate their natural voters. Why for the love of God do they not learn from the Tories who are still holding their own in the polls despite being ‘in government’ .

    Well, this illustrates so well the point I made at 1.35pm today. On the one hand, yes, I agree, the LibDem leadership has done a lot that is wrong and has alienated those who would once have been natural LibDem voters. On the other, given that we have a coalition which is five-sixths Conservative and one-sixth LibDem, it is surely unrealistic to expect the LibDems to be able to have their way in that coalition as much as the Conservatives do. Yet even when the LibDems do try and stand up and push the coalition away from where the Conservatives want it to go, do they get any support from outside for it? No, none whatsoever, it’s still “nah-nah-nah-nah-nah” with no recognition of what they have done to stop the worst of what the Tories want. This constant “nah-nah-nah-nah-nah” attacks on the LibDems from everyone apart from the Tories, is just serving to boost the right-wing of the Liberal Democrats, because it gives the impression that there’s no point in moving left, it doesn’t gain anything, and it is causing what is left of the left-wing of the Liberal Democrats to give up hope and disintegrate – we just see those we need to be supporting us in keeping the party’s left going peeling off, and the party’s right winning by default.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Mar '14 - 10:28pm

    AC Trussell

    The Lib/Dems that pledged to vote against the increase in student fees ; and then did so, did so for the greater good of a strong stable Coalition.

    The problem was that the Tories simply were NOT going to support the taxation which the LibDems wanted to pay for it. If they had supported that taxation, they would have been breaking THEIR pledges. As has been noted, the CORE belief of the Tories, really the thing they stand for more than anything else, is protection of the idle rich, protection of the idea that wealth gained by owning things is somehow more noble than income gained by dirty working and so should be taxed less or not at all. For the Conservatives to have backed any sort of increase in property tax of any form would be a denial of all they stand for. There was simply no way the LibDems in the coalition were going to be able to persuade the five times as many Conservative MPs as Liberal Democrat MPs to do that.

    While one may answer “in that case, don’t form a coalition”, do you think the people of Britain would be grateful to the LibDems for there being no stable government? Consider how the press always takes the side of the Tories and twists news and comment in their favour. A prolonged period of uncertainty would have resulted in a prolonged attack on the Liberal Democrats merely for existing, with Labour and Labour supporters joining in the attack, as they joined in with the Tories to attack the Liberal Democrats and use the line “bring back the two party system” in the referendum on electoral reform.

    I agree that Clegg has played the whole thing very badly in so many ways, but he was in a difficult situation. My view remains, I accept the formation of the coalition as a necessity given how people voted and how the electoral system they supported by two-to-one a year later distorted that vote, but I think its formation should have been pushed by the Liberal Democrats as a grim necessity, a miserable little compromise, and not lauded as a triumph in the way Clegg did at the start and continues to do so.

  • Maria Pretzler 25th Mar '14 - 11:51pm

    Steve,
    You have a very touching trust in Labour.
    I await with some curiosity calculations to show how this is going to work out.

    If they can make sure that university funding doesn’t drop irresponsibly, and if they can solve the graduate tax repayment problem, I am sure many would be happy to support it. Those are two very big ifs, though, and I haven’t seen a solution.

    As somebody who didn’t think the LibDem pledge could actually work financially back in 2010, I am equally sceptical about Labour’s proposals now. In Wales, Labour have certainly put electoral advantage for themselves over the wellbeing of their universities, so excuse me if I am just a little bit sceptical that they are the right people to look after universities or students properly. The 1997-2010 story is not inspiring, and no amount of a completely predictable ‘the LibDems can’t talk after their U-turn’ rant will change that.

  • “I await with some curiosity calculations to show how this is going to work out.”

    Really? You haven’t mentioned or referred to a single calculation in this discussion so far, so why you would be so bothered about seeing one now is quite beyond me. You keep saying HE was underfunded before 2010 but haven’t given a single piece of evidence to back this up.

    Just picking up on one of your earlier statements. Can you please explain what you meant by the NUS wanting to enshrine tuition fees in law? – and can you please provide a link to them saying this. Talk about a complete misrepresentation. Their policy is to do away with fees and replace funding with general, progressive taxation. How can that in any way be described as the NUS wanting to enshrine tuition fees in law because they’ve realised the government is going to have to step in with more cash because of the increase in the predicted shortfall of repayments?

  • Chris Manners 26th Mar '14 - 1:22am

    @Maria

    ” But Labour and the Conservatives have been messing with the system for years as well, and the Browne review was essentially set up to act as an excuse for a further rise and marketization”

    Labour couldn’t have got anything like £9k through. It only got the 2004 fees through by 5 votes. Quite probably something like what they say now- £6k- though no doubt that was hit upon without much study.

    You’ve had yonks and yonks of how you were different, how Labour and Conservative had messed everything up. You’ve done far worse on your signature policy. Curtains, I’m afraid. Let down by a clique around your leader, even more than we were.

  • Maria, for all their HE faults, had a viable, costed policy. They didn’t pledge, outwith their manifesto, to vote against tuition fees. They didn’t betray that pledge with a policy that turns out to be a catastrophic failure.

    Labour are much more trustworthy on HE than the Lib Dems. Even the Tories are. It’s a tragedy for your party, and one that was predicted at the time.

  • Maria Pretzler 26th Mar '14 - 10:35am

    As it happened, I sort of predicted it at the time as well.
    The point in 2010 when all those pledge pictures turned up it was a *head in hands* moment for me, and I ended up ranting about it quite a bit. I was a LibDem voter, but not a member at the time, but gave the one LibDem I actually knew at the time a piece of my mind or several.

    But after breaking *two* electoral promises in tuition fees itself, Labour really can’t talk. Particularly because they did it both times with a very large majority in parliament, and therefore absolutely without no real reason for ‘changing their mind’ other than that they wanted to, and could.

    I have to give it to the Labour party, they completely managed to win this particular blame game, and it won’t change, but history is what it is, and nobody has covered themselves in glory on higher education in the last thirty years or so. My suspicion is that this is essentially because voters as a whole like nice promises on HE without liking to pay for it, while students vote in very small numbers. The LibDems fell foul on this, but really, Labour is in absolutely no position to be preachy on this.

    Yes, I am cynical about this. As somebody who works in the higher education sector, I’d like people to think about this sensibly, instead of playing electoral football with it. This includes the LibDems, although I think we have worked hard in the last two years to become more realistic on this at least now (I was on the policy working group because I really do feel strongly about this).

    But it also applies to Labour, whose unrealistic. but electorally opportune policies are killing HE in Wales, and whose current manifesto plans for England are not viable, unless they actually tell us how they are filling the gaps they’ll produce (it looks like a policy purely born from reaction to what looks popular, rather than actual creative thinking). Will anybody actually learn from the last LibDem debacle, instead of just shouting about it? I guess Labour got away with it twice (not even counting the election in Wales in 2011), so they presumably simply think it’s good electoral strategy, universities be damned.

  • Maria “…Labour is in absolutely no position to be preachy on this.”

    Maybe not but perhaps we voters who believed the LibDem s when we were promised “fully costed” ways to fund HE through general taxation and a personal pledge signed almost in blood , perhaps we may be allowed to be angry and disillusioned. It’s not just you,Maria, who was shaking your head in disbelief at the manifesto and the pledge, it appears now that most of the Lib Dem leadership never believed in it either. We were conned good and proper.

  • The fact is that the ‘better system’ the Lib Dem leadership keep telling us about is one where many middle-income graduates earning not much more than the national average will effectively pay a marginal rate of income tax 9% higher than anyone else for most of their careers, and even then may not have been earning enough above the threshold to have paid off their full loan!

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Mar '14 - 2:43pm

    Phyllis

    Maybe not but perhaps we voters who believed the LibDem s when we were promised “fully costed” ways to fund HE through general taxation and a personal pledge signed almost in blood , perhaps we may be allowed to be angry and disillusioned.

    OK, but the people of Britain did not choose to elect a LibDem government. They voted to have five times as many Conservative MPs as LibDem MPs, and the argument that this ration does not reflect how people voted was DESTROYED by the 2011 referendum – by two to one, the people of this country voted “No” to electoral reform when the MAIN argument of the “No” campaign was that the distortion of the current electoral system which gave us five times as many Conservative MPs as LibDem MPs was a good thing.

    Suppose the LibDems had managed to persuade Conservative MPs to back LibDem tax plans that would fulfil this promise – Conservative voters would then have every right to get angry with Conservative MPs for going against their pledge not to raise taxation.

    If one votes to spend more state money on something, but one does not vote to raise taxation stop cover it, the default is that it gets paid by more state borrowing. The same money would still be borrowed, the loan and fees system is not bringing in extra money. So there would still be the same amount of debt created, though it would be on all our heads. The failure to acknowledge this as a central aspect of this debate is why it is NOT a “straw man” to raise the point that too many people in this debate are making the childish assumption that “free” state services really are free. Well, they are not, I am a university lecturer, I expect to be paid for my job.

    The wording of the LibDem pledge COULD have been kept to by drastically slashing the number of university places. Would you, Phyllis, or anyone else have been happy with that? I am told the threat of doing so from the Tories was the persuading issue for the LibDem leadership.

    Why are we making graduates pay this 9% higher marginal income tax rate, as GP Purnell puts it? The reason is that no-one is willing to accept alternatives. We are making graduates pay this 9% because we who are home-owners refuse to accept taxation on the huge amounts of cash that can be made from owning homes, refuse to accept that when we die a share of the cash our children get ought perhaps to be taken and used in general to help those coming into adulthood. That is why I say, anyone who opposes tuition fees should put their money where their mouths are and say YES, I would willingly pay capital gains tax on money made from house price rises, YES I would willingly see a proportion of the cash I hope to get when my aging parents die be taken and used in this way – and as with all taxation, this is a collective agreement, it is sating “YES so long as everyone else also agrees YES”. Or even, “YES, rather than the £800 that the LibDems are boasting about giving me in income tax cuts, I would rather forgo that and see the money isnetad used to subsidise universities”.

    The fact that I see almost no-one saying this sort of YES suggests to me that most people are hypocrites on this subject. Oh, they’ll moan about tuition fees, but when it comes to THEM actually accepting the alternative, well that’s a different thing.

    That is why we so badly need an adult politics in which it is accepted that promises and pledges cannot be made in isolation, there must always be balancing factors. Instead, we have this childish politics from the left in which it is assumed that any state services really are “free”, so any cuts or budgetting of them is just done through vindictiveness, and this childish politics from the right in which it is assumed that any tax that is raised is done so purely out of envy and again a vindictiveness this time aimed at those who have money.

  • AC Trussell 26th Mar '14 - 6:03pm

    Peter Watson. Yes sorry. 🙂

    Steve Way. “It wasn’t weak, it was underhand and showed a lack of integrity.”
    I don’t think it was underhand (“acting or done in a secret or dishonest way” ) ; everybody in the country has heard about it;- about 2,000 times.
    Integrity (“the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles”): How about : They were honest in their belief that voting in the way they did was the right thing to do for the good of the country- in the long run.
    With such things as raising the tax thresh-hold to £10500.
    Getting the Pupil Premium;
    Getting the Triple Lock Pension deal;
    Stopping child detention:
    Shared parental leave;
    Universal free school meals for primary school pupils- saving the average family £437 per child per year:
    Enable people to stay in foster care until they are 21;
    Enable over 3 million workers for the first time to have a workplace pension;
    While Liberal Democrat ministers such as Vince Cable have created record numbers of apprentices, seeing over 1.6 million apprentices start since 2010.etc,etc.
    Plus keeping a lid on the Tories (Very important!).

    I agree , Nick Clegg should have apologised and explained straight away. The Lib/Dems should have known the other Parties & their Media were going to use it to the n-th degree. They were very worried about the Lib/Dems, because without this way of attacking them – and constantly bringing it up- the Lib/Dems could well be ahead in the polls.

  • Peter Watson 26th Mar '14 - 8:29pm

    @AC Trussel
    “Getting the Pupil Premium”
    All three parties had the Pupil Premium in their manifesto

    “Universal free school meals”
    Labour commissioned the original trials and Gove welcomed the report. Lib Dems previously opposed this at every level from Simon Hughes via MSPs down to local councillors (who cancelled some of the trials). Now it’s a Lib Dem owned policy in a trade-off to allow Tories to penalise single people in the tax system.

  • Peter Watson 26th Mar '14 - 8:38pm

    @AC Trussel “Integrity (“the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles”): How about : They were honest in their belief that voting in the way they did was the right thing to do for the good of the country- in the long run.”
    Is this another way of saying that they were previously endorsing (and asking for our votes for) a policy that was the wrong thing and bad for the country?
    Were those who made a promise and kept it showing less integrity? And what about those who negotiated away their integrity by abandoning their pledges in the Coalition Agreement, but who retained enough to abstain in accordance with that agreement?

  • Peter Watson 26th Mar '14 - 8:55pm

    @Maria Pretzler “Labour is in absolutely no position to be preachy on this.”
    Indeed they’re not.
    And didn’t Lib Dems give them hell for it, loudly condemning Labour’s u-turns on top-up fees, publicising the Lib Dem’s own policy to scrap fees and courting student voters with warnings about Labour and Tory plans to increase fees after the 2010 election, making high-profile public pledges to vote against such rises, and making a very preachy video about “no more broken promises”.

  • Maria Pretzler 26th Mar '14 - 10:40pm

    Well, I have made it quite clear that I agree that the LiBDems didn’t cover themselves in glory with this.

    I am not quite sure, however, why on earth this needs to be a reason for keeping the debate on a completely unrealistic basis, without any chance to discuss the issues at hand properly.

    Well – I understand the political/opportunistic reasons. But the question is whether anybody out there cares more for British research and higher education than electoral advantage. Last September, in Glasgow, he LibDems have changed their policy to something more realistic, if less popular. Can we expect anybody else to think about this seriously, so that we can actually start solving this problem?

  • daft ha'p'orth 27th Mar '14 - 12:33am

    “You keep saying HE was underfunded before 2010 but haven’t given a single piece of evidence to back this up”
    Good point. As far as I can tell, HE was doing better before 2010. Perhaps that’s because whilst reshuffling funding the govt also saw fit to kick the hornet’s nest in broader policy terms, which I know they did.

    As regards all this labour vs lib dem stuff, I don’t give a monkey’s whose fault the current situation is. I ain’t voting for any of these parties any more so it really doesn’t matter to me. That having been said, I would still like to see someone showing some interest in sorting it out… someone in fact who ‘cared more for British research and HE than electoral advantage’.

    Sadly, I don’t see any realism: maybe Maria does, but I don’t. Perhaps we are just seeing different sides of the same system, but all I see are a bunch of people arguing about totally irrelevant political nonsense and talking-point metrics, whilst failing to engage with the realities of the system as it stands today.

  • Peter Watson 27th Mar '14 - 1:15am

    @Maria Pretzler “Last September, in Glasgow, he LibDems have changed their policy to something more realistic”
    Which is what though?
    If you mean what is reported here: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/lib-dems-back-fees-but-still-aspire-to-abolition/2007457.article then that seems to be little more than a political fudge, describing as a a “credible position” an acceptance of £9,000 tuition charges in the short term and treating the abolition of fees as a future aspiration. And the reports that triggered this thread suggest the wheels might be falling off the current policy anyway, giving Lib Dems a very difficult balancing act.
    I agree that the whole system for funding higher education needs to be reviewed and consensus found on the fundamental issues of who pays for it and how much. Perhaps rather than a broad brush approach to the sector as a whole we could treat different disciplines and subjects differently, and maybe different institutions. A few years ago I would have said the Lib Dems were ideally placed to lead such a debate having already thought long and hard about it, but the party’s senior figures have destroyed its credibility in this area (and by association created a bit of an anti-Midas touch when the party wants to be trusted on other issues such as electoral or Lords reform). I do not see where change will come from, and as more students graduate with the millstone of enormous debt around their necks, I doubt they’ll be keen to see a cheaper system for those who follow.

  • Peter Watson 27th Mar '14 - 12:12pm

    And in other news, “Lower government funding will hit university teaching budgets in England” (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/mar/26/lower-government-funding-university-teaching-england)

  • I’m not as interested in politics as I used to be and I remember very little about many of the last elections promises. But being someone who tended to vote LibDem the things I do remember are “no more broken promises” and the “personal pledges on tuition fees by Lib Dem leaders”. It was the most clear policy of any political party and turned out to be a disgraceful lie. With their present leadership the LibDems will not be forgiven. Surely even their supporters can see that the very low poll numbers are not going to rise before the next general election – if ever.

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