Tuition fees: what Lib Dem members think now (2 of 3)

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Over 660 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results over the next few days.

It’s almost three months since Lib Dem Voice last asked party members what they thought about tuition fees. So we asked three questions to gauge members’ views now the dust has settled … a little.

Part I: Demonstrations against the fee rises

Part II: 51% to 49% backing for Coalition’s policy on tuition fees …

LDV asked: The Coalition Goverment voted to increase the cap on university tuition fees to £6,000, rising to £9,000 in exceptional circumstances. Students would not have to pay the fees upfront, but would instead pay using student loans that they would have to pay back as graduates once they were earning £21,000. Wealthier graduates would have to pay a higher interest rate on their loans. Do you support or oppose these proposals?

  • 51% – Support
  • 49% – Oppose
  • (Excluding Don’t know / No opinion 6%)

By the slimmest of margins, a wafer-thin majority of Lib Dem members back the Coalition’s tuition fees policy. Here’s a sample of comments received, first in opposition:

This will hit middle income students incredibly hard – paying back loans is already a burden, and there is a mistaken assumption that all graduates are high earners.

Sorry but our MPs from pampered backgrounds simply do not comprehend the disincentive debts have to people from backgrounds wherer “thousands of pounds” are simply not part of life.

Whilst I know that Vince Cable has come up with a package of measures that are fairer that Labour offered, and that the Conservatives would have delivered on their own, the simple fact is that we campaigned at the election on a platform of a different sort of politics. We made a pledge. We should have stuck to it.

Free education is a right. No deals. No compromise. No means testing (which is effectively what this does). Fallacy that graduates earn more (I wish)

And then from those who back the Coalition policy:

I am happy that Lib Dem Ministers fought for and won major concessions on the Browne Report. It was right that they voted for the proposals and I would have done the same if I were in their position. Lib Dem MPs who voted against or abstained won no concessions for students, who would have been in a far worse position had 19 Lib Dem MPs not sacrificed their personal reputation by breaking their pledge and fighting tooth and nail against the uncapped tuition fees proposal in Labour’s Browne Report.

I see these proposals as the best we could achieve, I would prefer universities and other post 18 education training to be funded from central taxation, however I don’t see this happening.

The rich may more, the poor pay less. It is the most progressive policy the govt have brought in.

Very qualified support: I would prefer to have implemented Lib Dem policy, but this is probably the best deal that was achievable.

  • Over 1,300 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 662 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 3rd and 9th January.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
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    21 Comments

    • I’d’ve welcomed a two-part question in which I could vote separately on the changes to the payment regime (good, AFAICT) and the rise in the cap – particularly as the rise has been coupled to cutting direct HE funding and to increasing the extent to which there is variable pricing across different institutions/courses.

    • @ Adam
      Well said. I think even Aaron Porter would accept that the new mechanism for charging is an improvement, but the average level of the charges is not going to improve social mobility, is in direct contravention of the pre-election signed pledges and is going to be indefensible on the doorstep.

    • I went support because I believe the new system is much fairer than the old system.

      Despite this I would still campaign to abolish fees altogether.

    • @Hugh: it’s very hard to compare the previous system with the current one directly. Raising the level of funding coming from graduates but changing the payment system so much isn’t really the same as just raising the fees. I agree it’s probably against the spirit of the pledge, though.

      @Rich: I can’t remember which way I actually voted on this, but probably against because my instinct is that transferring so much funding from central govt to graduates will dig deeper the hole that will need to be filled in if and when fees are, eventually, to be abolished.

    • Depressed Ex Lib Dem 11th Jan '11 - 2:49pm

      “I’d’ve welcomed a two-part question in which I could vote separately on the changes to the payment regime (good, AFAICT) and the rise in the cap …”

      Obviously LDV isn’t going to ask whether people support the rise in fees. Even Rich would have said “No” to that one.

    • roy's claret army 11th Jan '11 - 3:06pm

      You can see why the Tories have stopped campaigning in Oldham: it’s cheaper to get you to do their dirty work for them.

    • Sorry Rich – I don’t mean to target you.

      But, this statement:
      “I went support because I believe the new system is much fairer than the old system.
      Despite this I would still campaign to abolish fees altogether.”

      Is an example of why the Party is plummeting towards low single figures in polling.

      It isn’t an intelligent stance to take. You can’t claim tripling of fees is much fairer. You then especially can’t claim that you would abolish fees. After supporting a tripling of them.

    • Cuse: One can vote for the package on the basis that the positives outweigh the negatives. I don’t think they do, on this, but if the cap increase had been smaller, I’d have considered it a price worth paying to raise the threshold at which repayments are made, to make higher earners pay more, making things a little more tax-like and less debt-like. Thinking that is better than the status quo doesn’t stop one believing that the ideal would be zero payments from students/graduates and all higher education centrally funded.

    • @ cuse

      This type of double-think is distressingly common amongst those left in the LD’s who have to hold their noses and find any comfort they can from a deeply flawed approach to so many major issues. thus one can at the same time be against fees in principle, and want to see them abolished, and yet crow about the current system being fairer than the previous system.

      The very slender majority noted above would no doubt not be reflected amongst those who voted LD at the last election, which is much more important in the long run. Like the disastrous decision to enter the Coalition in the first place, the argument that the new policy is better than the old one, and that there was no alternative, doesn’t just miss the point, it just ain’t so!

    • richard heathcote 11th Jan '11 - 4:07pm

      i still think there will be a loophole somewhere and the rich wont pay in installments they will end up paying zero interest as it will be paid upfront by those lucky enough to afford this. i also think £21000 as the threshold to start paying will actually end up being quite a low starting point in a few years the way inflation and average pay scales increase over time it will mean more people at the bottom end of the scale will end up paying for this debt which over a few years of education could end up being a quite daunting ammount. this will deter alot of people from even thinking of HE as a worthwhile prospect.

    • The problem with the Government – and Nick Clegg in particular, unfortunately – is that they are only seeing the benefit of university education in terms of personal wealth and graduates’ salaries. What they miss is the benefit to society of an educated people, and that’s the bit you can’t put a price on.

      I oppose fees, and I’d have voted against this on a point of principle. Saying that this policy is OK compared to the last one is a bit like saying Margaret Thatcher was OK because she wasn’t Keith Joseph.

    • Adam.
      Thinking that is better than the status quo doesn’t stop one believing that the ideal would be zero payments from students/graduates and all higher education centrally funded.

      I’m sorry; but it does. You can’t say YES to tripling fees then say YES to scrapping them. It is an outrageous contradiction and will prevent hundreds of thousands of people voting Lib Dem ever again.

      It is a typical politician’s argument – and one that Nick Clegg’s “New Politics” should have eradicated forever.

    • KL

      Saying that this policy is OK compared to the last one is a bit like saying Margaret Thatcher was OK because she wasn’t Keith Joseph.

      Priceless. And accurate.

    • Richard Heathcote:

      Isn’t it quite a good feature of the policy if the rich do pay up front – but through choice rather than compulsion? (I am not sure that will happen much – but it may do. More likely they will pay back quickly, if they can, at the point where their salary starts to ramp up the interest.)

      Lending money isn’t free to the Government. It is a nonsense of the current loans system that very wealthy students are encouraged to take a student loan even if they don’t need the money, because the borrowing is so heavily subsidised that they can make a profit on it (even more so in favourable economic circumstances).

      If the rich do pay up front, it is not entirely certain whether they will end up better off or worse off in real terms – it depends on their future salary which is presumably at least somewhat unknown to them and the rates of return available on investment etc etc. But lending to students is not free to the Government under either system – so it is probably helpful to them not to do it if the support isn’t needed.

      The system is not based on parental wealth, as the old up-front fees were, but if parents are willing and able to pay full fees up-front at whatever rate, it seems perverse to tell them that they cannot do so.

    • @Andrew Tennant
      “Those arguing for a lower cap on fees, or against the rise, are in fact asking the taxpayer to subsidise the highest earning graduates…”
      Actually we’re asking the taxpayer to subsidise students who may possibly go on to be high-earning graduates, or may not – that way the potential debt won’t influence decisions that may affect their whole life. And we have faith in the possibility of a progressive income tax system to recoup enough from any high-earning graduate to mean that we don’t end up with a system where shop assistants subsidise doctors but in fact the other way round, regardless of which of them went to university. We believe that this is to the benefit of society as a whole. May I remind you that this has been the LD party’s policy for the last however many years.

    • @Andrew Tennant
      Sorry, I don’t think I am wrong – and you totally missed my point.
      You’re arguing that a cap benefits people who go on to be wealthy, after graduation. I will agree with you on this. But what this doesn’t address, and which I think ought not to be ignored, is the impact on young people who are not wealthy (but may go on to be wealthy, or may not, in the future). This is a complex issue that was discussed to death a couple of months back so I won’t start all that up again.

    • Does anyone mind telling me how is this positive for students? Given the LD’s still lie through their teeth when they keep saying the fable ‘students unlike now, wont pay anything up front’

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