Tuition fees: the simple case against them

I’ve already posted twice on the issue of tuition fees, once giving my general views and once explaining the university position.
The simple argument against the proposed fee increase isn’t about not being able to afford the fees, since they’re not paid upfront. It is just that anyone starting university under the new scheme is potentially building up debts of £30k plus. OK, it doesn’t kick in until a certain salary level, but most graduates will have to pay. And if the ConDems don’t think that will put many potential students off, they really have lost touch. Added to that is the damage that will be inflicted on universities, as I discussed last time.


Tuition fees: the University perspective

Having given my own personal views on University tuition fees in the last posting on this blog, I turn my attention to the perspective of Universities themselves on this issue.

As our own Vice-Chancellor has pointed out, the cuts in the grant from HEFCE that cover teaching will definitely be made, whatever happens. And even if fees are set at a maximum value of £9k, this will not fully compensate for these cuts, especially as some ‘non-tuition’ elements are also to be cut, which Universities will have to compensate for if they can. Added to that, there will be a period of 3 years or so before any income comes in from the new fees, if they are introduced (although I understand the government will cover this; how will it be calculated is another question).

I have sympathised with student occupations, but the issues involved are much wider than those that affect students alone. Certainly students will suffer from the increased fees, but Universities are also going to take a serious hit. Inevitably there will be major cuts in staff and facilities. Universities campaigning for the fees increase are missing the point if they think that the new fee levels will lead them into a new age of prosperity! They just have to do the sums …

I am sorry that Universities themselves (in addition to students) haven’t taken a stronger stance on the issue of tuition fees and funding in general. I understand that Universities UK were unable to persuade every Vice-Chancellor to sign a letter in favour of the increased fees, to be published in the press on Wednesday; we will see how may signatures they get, if the letter appears.

The inevitable consequence is that Universities are also in a no-win situation, as even the increased fees will not compensate for cuts elsewhere. Those of us who are ideologically against tuition fees have to recognise that if the new fees are voted down, an equally uncertain future awaits Universities, their staff and their students. These are difficult and uncertain days for Higher Education, and what is needed is a complete rethink of the whole system. There is little chance that will happen before serious damage is done.


University tuition fees

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.


Frustrations of scientific publishing

For nearly a year now, my research collaborators and myself have been trying to publish a paper which, amongst other things, describes a new method for determining the energy required to dope materials. particularly but not exclusively for optical applications. We’ve submitted to IOP’s Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter, that we have published in extensively over the past 15 years. They have just rejected this work for a third time without giving any explanation except that they don’t think the paper contains ‘new science’ (on which we clearly disagree!) Of course there are other journals, and our paper will get published eventually, but this has proved to be an immensely frustrating experience.

My Miliblog

So, after several months and much debate and hot air, we will at last find out who our new leader is today. It looks like it will be Mr Miliband, but which? Whether it’s David or Ed will have a long lasting effect on our future. I have always said that I think David has the best chance of uniting the party and getting our ‘middle England’ vote back. We need that if we are to win an election any time soon. But if Ed is elected, there is a danger of too many concessions to our core support and to the unions., which is the recipe for years in opposition! I hope the party has made the ‘right’ decision, but we’ll find out soon ….

A choice of Milibands

The phony war of the labour leadership contest is almost over, and we get to vote for our leader at last. David Miliband seems to be the favourite, and indeed he will get my vote, but his younger brother Ed seems to be picking up something of a late following. The fact is that these two brothers each offer something different, so it is very important that the party makes the right choice, if (as it seems) the choice is to be between them.

In an excellent piece in the Guardian’s on line edition, last Friday, Martin Kettle described the choice the party faces. If you haven’t read this, I recommend that you do.

In my own view, the decision we face boils down to whether we want ‘traditional, back-to-our roots’ labour values, or whether we want to reconnect with the voters who enabled Tony Blair to win 3 elections. I am concerned that a lot of those now supporting Ed Miliband are too young to remember what happened to the party in the 1980s. Then we moved to the left, elected Michael Foot as leader, and made ourselves unelectable in the view of the majority of the population. It took Tony Blair, and the creation of New Labour, to change all that. Do those now supporting Ed Miliband not remember those dark years when Thatcher held sway? Or do they want the party to shift to the left and, in so doing, stay out of power for decades?

Another factor in this discussion is the support of some of the larger unions for Ed Miliband. Undoubtedly they felt threatened in the Blair-Brown years, and think that an Ed Miliband administration would be more sympathetic to their cause. This appears to have been taken to extremes by the GBW union who have talked about ‘reconsidering their position’ over party funding if their favoured candidate doesn’t get elected. Ultimately, these unions will have to modernise, and in the long term, Labour must think carefully about its relationship with them, especially if they continue to make statements like this, which do us no favours in the eyes of the electorate as a whole.

Labour can no longer win an election by depending on its core support. Instead we must reach out to middle England, and to middle class voters. David Miliband is without doubt the candidate best placed to achieve this, and I am keeping everything available crossed for his success in the election that is coming up. Now all I have to do is wait for my ballot papers to arrive!

Some reflections on the NHSdirect decision and the GMB union’s possible intervention in the leadership contest

Sometimes it doesn’t help to have a long memory! While many are criticising the suggested closure of NHSdirect, am I alone in remembering how its establishment was mocked, including by those on the left of Labour? I always felt that it would have been better to use the resources involved directly, for doctors and nurses. As it is, it is an easy target for the coalition.

If it is true that the GMB union are really trying to employ strong arm tactics to influence the result of the leadership contest, then their leaders must be told in no uncertain terms to back off! The decision as to who our next leader will be must be made by the whole party, under our electoral rules. Their action only brings into question our continued association with unions like them! I’m not convinced that they are prepared to sign up to the forward-looking agenda that we must embrace if we wish to regain the confidence of the country, which we must do if we are to be re-elected.

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