Tuition fees to be capped?

From The Guardian:

David Willetts said he disagreed with one of the main proposals of Lord Browne’s radical blueprint for universities, published last week.

Browne, former chief executive of BP, recommended ministers allow universities to set tuition fees – currently £3,290 a year for students in England – as high as they thought they could command.

Browne said institutions charging more than £6,000 should have to pay a rising percentage of each additional £1,000 as a levy to government. This would mean a university that charges £7,000 would receive 94% of the fee, while one charging £10,000 would receive 81%.

Speaking to vice-chancellors at the annual conference of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Willetts ruled out such a system as “neither sustainable nor sensible”.

He said the coalition was looking at sticking with a fee cap. Vince Cable, the business secretary, has suggested fees are capped at £7,000 a year. He has said there would be a “psychological impact” on pupils from poor and middle-income homes of taking on debts more than this.

The story illustrates how, although the government is set on introducing the Browne report in some form, much of the detail is still the subject of intense debate within the coalition.

The reason many Liberal Democrat MPs have so far held off stating in public how they will vote is that this maximises their negotiating power in order to win further modifications from the original Browne proposals. An intensive round of meetings and talks is still being held as those who have not yet committed in public press for further changes.

The date for putting the revised Browne proposals to Parliament has not yet been set, reflecting the uncertainties within Whitehall as to quite how long these continuing internal debates will take and how much they may yet further alter the plans.

However successful MPs are in their efforts to secure further changes (and this story shows how even significant parts of the Browne review are still up for alteration), it is hard to see how the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party will n0t end up splitting three ways – with Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and possible a small band of others voting for the report, many abstaining and a further large group voting against.

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16 Comments

  • all I have to say 22nd Oct '10 - 12:59pm

    Before someone accuses me of being a “labour troll” – I am Labour, but not, I hope a troll 🙂 (though that is for you to decide, obv)

    If the Lib dems had taken a pragmatic line in the GE on this issue then of course mark would be right to say it makes good sense to fight the corner in private but be quiet in public. But the LDs were anything but pragmatic on this issue.

    It is the sense that your party preached the New Jerusalem and then became co-owners in Dark Satanic Mills plc that is destroying you. Frankly your policy was daft at the election but the retrospective admission of that does you no favours at all.

    Once again I have to say you are rubbish at the coalition game – but it has become worse than that: the Tories can be so hard right because you are now giving them cover. Even the pupil premium – that you all trumpeted from every roof top in Liverpool has proved to be meaningless – especially as it is combined with the end of ring fencing.

    You have to put your foot down on something, and soon, otherwise you will be in the wilderness for a quarter of a century once the polls close in 2015.

  • paul barker 22nd Oct '10 - 2:07pm

    Typically intelligent article, typically stupid comment & that is how we want it. As long as we dont beleive the Labour line, the more of them do the better. Once we see some actual Elections, IMO, Labour will be in for an unpleasant surprise. They will make gains, mostly from Tories & others/independents but not not on the landslide scale they are expecting & not accompanied by our collapse.

  • David Wright 22nd Oct '10 - 2:42pm

    Well aIhts, as they say in some Facebook relationships, “It’s complicated”. There is party policy, Coalition policy, and how MPs vote. It’s nice when they’re all aligned, but on this one they aren’t.

    Liberal Democrat policy is to abolish tuition fees. It’s a policy set by our Conference, it appeared in our manifesto, and it was recently re-confirmed by our Federal Policy Committee. I happen to think that’s the right policy; you don’t, and your Party introduced them so it doesn’t either. There is however the issue of time-scale, we can’t do it all at once – certainly not in the present circumstances – and would have phased the change in over some years. We would have had more flexibility as we planned to raise taxes to cover the cost, more than the Conservatives have agreed to, (and note that had they been in power by themselves, the Conservatives would not have raised taxes on the well off at all).

    But we don’t have a Lib Dem government, and our coalition partners did not agree to this policy – hence the ‘agreement to differ’ in the coalition agreement.

    Then there is what the Coalition will do. The Conservatives want to more than double the fees. Some Lib Dem MPs also want to increase the fees, while trying to make the loan repayments fairer, as they believe the alternative is either unaffordable at present, or would leave universities with a critical funding shortfall.

    That is a valid argument, but it is not available to many Lib Dem MPs. They have made a personal pledge to not raise tuition fees, and so they are IMHO bound to vote against any rise in fees. A number of them have confirmed they will indeed vote against, including my two nearby MPs, Bob Russell and Julian Huppert. Others may choose to abstain.

    I wonder what will happen if enough MPs vote against to lose the coalition’s majority. How is Labour planning to vote? Logically, they’d vote for the rise – they introduced fees after all – but I imagine they’ll vote against now they are not the ones carrying out the policy.

    If the coalition DOES lose the vote, how bad would it be? The press would yell “Split!!”, but it’s not as if people thought the two parties agreed on this anyway. It would make the coalition less stable – not least because it might encourage right-wing Tory MPs to vote against the Government too – but I see no reason why it would break it. And showing that two parties could still work together even though they did not agree on everything would not be a bad thing.

    It would also help the voters tell the difference between us in 2015!

  • @David Wright
    If the coalition DOES lose the vote,

    Sorry but that can happen, the Lib Dems in the cabinet have to vote with the government on this its the deal ,and they will agree to a rise in fees ,and when next Mays elections its a hard one to sell with the fees pledge poster ,the vat poster,turning on the poor ,etc etc and with your new polling at 10% [http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2010/10/poll-party-lib-labour-support]
    Will that be the straw that breaks the camels back

    Andy Edinburgh

  • Grammar Police 22nd Oct '10 - 5:03pm

    @ all I have to say – on the pupil premium, that’s only if you buy the incredibly frantic Labour scrabbling around to try to “prove” why that the pupil premium is not extra money, which I don’t.

    Frankly given that we don’t have a Lib Dem majority Government I don’t expect the figures to work out – all parties’ manifestos are based on the fact that they will have a majority in the Commons.

  • A cap has many advantages, not least one that doesn’t get much mention but I think is incredibly important – the fact that unlimited fees will probably lead to US-style fee inflation, and we’ll end up with a university system 10% better but 100% more costly (and very well-paid academics). I think academics are under-paid, but I can see it flipping the other way.

    I think Lib Dem policy should just be honest and say it was a pledge made because they never thought they would be in power and promise to be more responsible next time. I think people would just about buy that.

  • @George Kendall

    I think you are over-optimistic.

    The Tories under Dave have been deliberately moving into the ‘nice liberal Tory’ ground. That is to say the party leadership have all but renounced the socially conservative and anti-Europe parts of their agenda. I still don’t think they are ‘nice’ though. Even if Cameron tries to abandon Thatcher’s legacy at the beating heart of contemporary Tory thinking, as well as most Tory MP’s, is a sense of entitlement and disturbing lack of concern for the effects that government actions will have on the general population. Cameron might seem like a nicer guy than Thatcher, but this government is going further than even Thatcher went (not that it would have been different under Labour).

    There is no room for a centre-right neo-liberal Lib Dem party. The Conservatives cover this ground far too well, it was Cameron’s shrewd move. Why would anyone want a right-wing lib dem party that would be essentially inditinguishable from the Conservatives (as it is fastly becoming)? We can see that nobody wants this, the vast majority of support that the Lib Dems received at the last election was from centre-left voters, not Tory defectors (in fact there seem to have been barely any Tory defectors to the Lib Dems). The Lib Dems have, in the polls, already lost over half the support they received at the last election… and they will have lost this support from centre-left voters. That alone indicates that the majority of people voting for the Lib Dems at the last election wanted a centre left-government

    Are those 13% of incredibly pissed off voters really going to vote for a party which implements and vocally supports the opposite platform to the one it campaigned on? No, like me (being one of them) they will feel incredibly dirty and angry with themselves.You are really suggesting that these people are ‘quiet’. I don’t think those angry 13% are being particularly quiet, just look on this website and the Guardian comment pages for example.

    Now I don’t trust Labour, but the Lib Dems are being incredibly naive if they think they can get anywhere without attracting Labour supporters. I find the ideal of liberalism endearing, but people on the ground will be making the choice between a pro-civil liberties party which is hammering them, and a dubious-civil liberties party that will campaign on a left-wing economic platform. Realistically people on the ground care more about their economic situation than some fuzzy philosophical notion of liberalism, and you can’t blame them for that.

    I really don’t want to have to vote Labour at the next election, I don’t trust Labour but I know that their core support would force them to be more left than this government. I will remain a Lib Dem member and hope to vote for a Lib Dem party which has purged the vacuous Tory elements…. who can go and support the party that already adequately represents their views. I want the Lib Dems to survive as a political force (and may vote for them for that reason alone). But to survive they must start standing up to the Tory party and start fighting for their promises. If the coalition collapses because the Lib Dems stick to their corner they will win much respect, and it will be a damn site better than the coalition collapsing as the Lib Dem vote goes through the floor due to a failed AV referendum. And let’s not forget the Lib Dems have staked their already dubious political future on the small chance that the economic plan they spent cogently arguing against prior to the election will actually work. The best case scenario is that the governemnt doesn’t manage to cut the deficit as much as it indicated, the worst case scenario is economic stagnation and depression… for which the Lib Dems would never, ever, be forgiven.

    At the very least the current lib dem leadership have proven themselves to be breath-takingly incompetent and politically ill-astute. At the worst they are a a bunch of cynical liars and sophists. The orange bookites need to be kicked out of the party and then they can join their natural home. I suggest a return to traditional liberalism for our party.

  • Nick Clegg’s entire policy seem based on the assumption that being a left-wing party is not a viable option and that if the Lib Dems want to win they will have to be right-wing.

    Yet it seems more likely that, in fact, being truly right-wing is no longer a viable option (Cameron moving left)… especially for the Lib Dems, who won’t find any space next to the ‘liberal Conservative’ party. The reality is that if we accept that the Lib Dem party campaigned on a platform essentially to the left of Labour (the obvious intention was to win Labour votes, which is why it is so insulting that Clegg tells to go away…. who else will vote for the party?)… then there was a clear centre-left majority of voters at the last election. Over 55% of people voted for parties clearly closer to each other in what they were saying than to the Tory party. Right-wing politics in this country is dying a slow death, and many lib dem voters were left-wing Labour members dissatisfied with the illiberalism of their own party…. because the Lib Dem manifesto was their dream come true. Finally a liberal left-wing party that supports science-based and rational policies… what I’ve always dreamed of!!! Unfortunately Clegg played them, but he will suffer for it at the next election (or sooner, we hope!).

  • Andrew Suffield 23rd Oct '10 - 11:49am

    the Lib Dems in the cabinet have to vote with the government on this its the deal

    No, it is explicitly in the coalition agreement that all Lib Dems may abstain on this issue, and the ones who aren’t ministers could probably get away with voting against it.

  • I agree totally with Rob says as one of these Labour defectors (in 2005 and 2010) – if I had to say what drove me to vote for them:

    i. A ‘liberal-left’ overall approach to the world
    ii. Abolition of tuition fees
    iii. PR
    iv. Civil liberties – based on opposition to Iraq War and WoT opposition

    Of these the conclusion so far is:

    i. Lost
    ii. Abandoned
    iii. Compromised with AV only option and referendum ready to be lost
    iv. Only one left but I am starting to see signs of back-tracking over the details

    I do not know where these centre-left voters who are staying quiet are – my peer group is full of ex-Labour who voted Lib Dems (most from 2005 onwards) and they will not do so again unless you start to stand up for yourselves

    As to Andrew Suffield – we will see won’t we. Is Vince going to vote against it or abstain. Or Sarah. Or Nick. Or Danny. Some backbenchers may vote against and a couple of ministers abstain but not enough to make a difference. A bit like Labour on Iraq really

  • George Kendall,

    Reading between the lines, it looks is if you are one of a growing band of Cleggmaniacs who recognise that Clegg has sacrificed the party and, while mouthing the standard unrealistic, casuistic drivel about the electorate after five years rewarding the party for its loyalty to Cameron, you see the only long-term future for the Liberal Democrats in an electoral pact where a few Parliamentarians will be spared, and as a marginal rump that has fulfilled its historic role of helping Cameron isolate the loonier elements in his party.

    I am coming to the view that Clegg was shoehorned into the leadership by the media with the objective of selling out his own party and strengthening (sorry, realigning) the centre-right. Imagine how those ingenues on the left of the party who were foolish enough to support Clegg are feeling now. Or maybe they have still to wake up.

  • A couple of days ago I heard Osbourne say that his programme is a four year one which would be ‘realigned’ in the fifth year. I presume this refers to the standard politicians’ practice [vide also 1984] of hitting the electorate hard then winning their support by bribery with fifth year give-aways [or victories after doom and gloom] ; They are so relieved that they vote for you out of gratitude. Strangely, this seems to work in many cases, so why shouldn’t Labour be trounced at the next election? Question is, will it be Cameron or Clegg that benefits? One should not be surprised that Browne, whose biggest worries at Cambridge were of the type whether to buy a Porsche or a Ferrari, and certainly no employment worries with daddy where he was, has little empathy with, and no understanding of, the problems facing children of poor families wishing to go to university, but it is worrying that M.P.s, especially those in the LibDem party, seen also to lack understanding. One minister yesterday stated with pride that ministers had accepted a £5,000 cut in salary.Very noble; presumably this means he would not be going to Glynebourne, or not buying as many shares, or foregoing some other luxury, this year. For many families at the lower end of the scale such a cut means cutting back on rent/food/ clothes, and even some slightly better off it would not simply be luxury items that go. For a child from such a background even the present loan debts are daunting, for unless everything works out very well the extra costs not covered by the loan are a massive burden proportionately on their family. For the Brownes and Camerons of the world these extras are trifles and even if little David fails to shine the payback is only pocket money. Unless the LibDems make some show of more empathy with the less well off, we will probably have a second Cameron era starting in five years time, with no need to form a coalition.

  • @John Tudor

    “One minister yesterday stated with pride that ministers had accepted a £5,000 cut in salary”

    It is a complete Joke and an Insult, that Ministers should be bragging that they have taken a pay of 5K

    A person under 25 who still lives at home with their parents who is in receipt of JSA gets £50.95 a week or to put it another way £2649.40 A year

    And Ministers have the Audacity to be proud they have taken a £5k cut from their £134,565 salary And lets not forget the expenses paid on top of that for “Travel, Second Homes, Food, Utilities”

    A person under 25 on JSA receives £7.28 a DAY and that has to (feed, Clothe,travel,utilities)

    Ian Duncan Smith said that People should be prepared to take buses to neighbouring towns to look for work.

    I just did a search on Eastern Counties Buses out of Curiosity

    And a return bus fare to another town within a 25 Mile Radius costs £4.50 Return

    And lets not forget it is reasonably essential for someone out of work to have access to a telephone, so that
    A) they can chase potential Employers
    And
    B) Potential Employers can contact applicants to arrange interviews

    In this day and age of modern technology most employers want to be able to contact people Via phone, rather than Post these day’s.

    So you have already spent £4.50 of your £7.28 on bus fares looking for work, Leaving yourself £2.78 for the day to feed, clothe and Utilities.

    Come on guy’s lets shout a little louder and demand cuts to welfare,
    I am sure we can get that £2.78 a day down to a Quid.
    That’s more than enough to buy a tin of baked beans and a couple of Potatoes.

  • Ive never really full understood why there could not be a system for HE that’s either fully funded, Part funded or Nil Funded by the State.

    Surly it is possible for there to be a system where, if your degree is for a career in “public services” i.e Medicine or Education and it is beneficial to the U.K economy to have UK workers trained in this area, rather than the need for Migrant workers, Then this is something that should be funded fully by Taxes.

    If your Degree is aimed at a career in the Private sector i.e Banks and Investments, Hospitality Management etc. Then this is something that should be funded by tuition fee’s (Capped) and possibly Industries within these fields, Businesses offering Scholarships to disadvantaged Students with excellent Academic Prospects, (Providing money for Scholarships could be tax deductible and an Incentive to business)

    Surly there are better ways of Funding HE than what is being proposed by the Browne report and something far easier for Liberals to swallow.

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