Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The University Tuition Fees Vote in Parliament

MP’s will vote in Parliament on Thursday 9th December on the ConDem coalition government proposals to raise university tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 per year, per student. This hike in tuition fees is bound to deter many people from taking up studies, at a time when work is scarce and we are constantly told that we need to have a high skilled economy and workforce, once the up turn does materialise.

The Green party would scrap these fees altogether, believing that higher education is a social good which benefits society as a whole, but the main political argument surrounding this issue has been the position adopted by the Lib Dems.

The Lib Dems campaigned against university tuition fees at this year’s general election, in quite explicit terms, with Nick Clegg their leader amongst them, even going as far as publicly signing a pledge to scrap the fees. Although reports have surfaced in the press that months before the election, the Lib Dem leadership had already decided to ditch this policy; so claims that this was a necessary compromise of coalition government is particularly dishonest, and quite frankly, shameful.

Students from wealthy backgrounds will be financially unaffected by this rise in fees, because their parents will cover the costs, and those from the poorest families will be exempt from paying, although the proposals will also end Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for 16 to 18 year olds from these backgrounds, which reduces their chances of going to university in the first place.

It is students in the lower to middle income category that will be most directly affected, with the prospect of starting out in working life with something like £40,000 to £50,000 in debt, which is a daunting enough thought for anyone.

Will Lib Dem MP’s back these proposals, given that only six months ago they were completely against tuition fees? Some of these MP’s have said they will vote against the proposals, but the twenty that are government ministers have said they will vote in favour, and this should be enough with most Tory MP’s sure to vote in favour for the proposals to get a majority in the House of Commons, sadly. But, the arithmetic is pretty tight so it will be interesting to see the result on Thursday.

I think if the proposals are passed, it will be extremely damaging to the Lib Dem party, and this might just convince enough of their MP’s that they could save their own necks by voting against. The public at large, when politicians make explicit pledges to do something or not do something, then do the complete opposite when the votes are bagged, tend to punish these same politicians at the next electoral opportunity. Many unhappy voters will be students, and ex students, who thought they were voting against tuition fees, votes the Lib Dems can ill afford to lose. And quite right too, politicians bending the truth is one thing, telling barefaced lies, is quite another.

Photo from the NewStatesman

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