Post the Browne report, Vince Cable’s been working to produce a more progressive way of funding Higher Education.
I have always believed that education should be free – for everyone – and always will. However, Labour ended the principle of free education with the introduction of tuition fees – and whichever way you turn in the current climate – those fees or costs are going to go up. I also despair that virtually the entire conversation around Higher Education is about the economics and nothing else.
Vince, as I said, has been working beyond hard to try and make this as good as it can be – and as progressive as can be.
A brief synopsis of the proposals:
1. All students will repay less per month under this Government’s policy than they currently pay.
2. The lowest earning 25% of graduates will repay less under this Government’s policy than they do now.
3. The top earning 30% of graduates will pay back more than they borrow and are likely to pay more than double the bottom 20% of earners.
4. Over half a million students will be eligible for more non-repayable grants for living costs than they get now.
- Almost one million students will be eligible for more overall maintenance support than they get now
6. Part time students will no longer have to pay up front fees benefiting up to 200,000 per year
7. There will be an extra £150m for a new National Scholarship Programme for students from poorer backgrounds and we will introduce tough new sanctions of universities who fail to improve their access to students from backgrounds.
This is not coming to the floor of the House for a few weeks yet to come and is a difficult issue for Liberal Democrats because we cannot have the solution we, on the whole, want.
The Coalition agreement only goes as far as to say “We will await Lord Browne’s final report into higher education funding, and will judge its proposals … If the response of the Government to Lord Browne’s report is one that the Liberal Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote”.
So the issue will be whether the Liberal Democrat MPs feel that the response to Lord Browne’s report is acceptable or not.
The NHS pledge which most LibDems signed up (including me) said: “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”
Vince has made it quite clear that the pledge is subsumed by the coalition agreement – and indeed – because even if it wasn’t, as he said in Parliament, we cannot keep that first part of the pledge – it is no longer viable.
However, he also argues, that the second part of the pledge he has undoubtedly delivered on – a much, much fairer regime than under Labour.
I won’t make a final decision until the final proposals are on the table. I will have three choices in theory: support the Government (and as a Minister this would be the norm), abstain as per the coalition agreement or vote against as per the NUS pledge.