With all the discussion and publicity surrounding University tuition fees, I thought I would add my views as a Labour Party member and University academic.
I have always believed that all education, including higher education, should be free to everyone who can benefit from it, and that it should be financed from taxation. This means that any person offered a university place should get their tuition fees paid. In that way I strongly opposed Labour’s introduction of tuition fees, and was encouraged by the LibDem pledge to abolish them if elected, unlikely as such an event seemed at the time (but more on that later).
In answering the argument that it is unfair that general taxation should support tuition fees, all I would say is that the whole country benefits from having an educated population, and taxes should be used where possible to benefit the country. Everyone pays taxes to support the NHS, for example, but use of it varies. So it is quite logical to include education in the same way, as something which benefits everyone in the long run.
The policy of the coalition government is, of course, entirely contrary to this. They want to move the majority of the cost of teaching in the universities from taxation to students tuition fees. If this happens, the landscape of higher education will be changed for ever. One consequence is that universities will only be able to offer those courses that are currently popular, since they won’t be able to fund courses without student fees. The implications of that just don’t bear thinking about, and it might be the subject of a future post.
Considering the position of the LibDems now, it is clear that they should stick to their pre-election pledge and vote against the fees bill. It’s no good using excuses like ‘you didn’t vote for us in sufficient numbers’. A pledge is a pledge, period. The behaviour of the likes of Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, who will seemingly do anything for power, is simply beneath contempt. Abstaining isn’t an option either, Vince! But it remains to see how many of them stick to their principles in next Thursday’s vote.
I am very sad to see what is happening to Higher Education in England. If the proposed system (or even the present one) had applied when I was 18, I would never have gone to university, and I know this applies to many people, some of whom are the architects of the new policies. The only hope is that if the fees bill is defeated next week, the government will be forced to think again. But I’m not at all optimistic that either will happen.