For those of you who didn't see last night's debate you can click on the photo above to see it.
My speech is 1hr 16 mins in, where I again publicly state that I will vote against an increase in tuition fees.
My concern over the Browne Review and the Government’s response is the impact that higher tuition fees will have on discouraging students from deprived backgrounds from applying to University, for fear of the debts they will accumulate. Under the current fees most students are leaving University with debts well in excess of £20,000. I do not accept that people are not put off going to University because the prospect of debt, and with at least an additional £10,000 on top of the existing debts, more and more people from deprived backgrounds will choose not to apply. While the bottom 25% of graduates will pay less than they currently do, nobody goes to University assuming that they will be one of those least well-off graduates. The assumption is that they will have to pay it all back, and so it is safe to assume that many more students from poorer backgrounds will simply choose not to go into higher education.
The Liberal Democrats have been put in a very difficult position in the context of the comprehensive spending review and the willingness of most Universities to accept funding cuts in return for an ability to significantly raise fees. The previous Labour Government supported an increase in fees. The Browne review was set up with the intention of raising student tuition fees and had the support of the Conservatives. The publication of the review was then cynically delayed for political reasons, with the Labour Government knowing full well that it would be unpopular to increase fees before the General Election.
Any changes to the current system need to make payments fairer.
The problem facing Vince Cable is that he has been dealt a very poor hand, and has come up with a fairer (but more expensive) system. What we must not forget is that Labour set up the Browne review to increase fees (and they introduced fees in the first place, despite promising not to). They had every intention of raising fees, and would not have made the system progressive in the way that Vince has managed to do.
The Liberal Democrats are being accused of breaking our promises over tuition fees. What people fail to recognise is that we only have 57 MPs. If there was a Liberal Democrat Government we would have done things differently, and we would not be raising tuition fees. The problem is that both Labour and the Tories were intent on raising tuition fees, and so there was no mandate to push through our policy to abolish tuition fees over 6 years in negotiations with both parties about forming a coalition Government. Under our electoral system you can only vote for a candidate in a particular seat. But at the same time you can also argue that the electorate did not vote to abolish tuition fees - 66% of the electorate voted for parties committed to increase tuition fees.
Labour’s opposition is opportunistic, and anybody who thinks that they would not have increased tuition fees if they were still in Government is being very naive or is a member of the Labour Party! To make matters worse, Labour don’t have an alternative. Despite Ed Miliband supporting a graduate tax, this is not their policy and Alan Johnson (the Shadow Chancellor) is completely opposed to it. A graduate tax could end up being MORE expensive for graduates than an increase in fees, and it would certainly mean many students paying back more money.