The Browne Report has been issued and for the first time I find myself massively disagreeing with the coalition's stance and the Liberal role in the coalition. My initial objection is not what the best policy is, I am yet to hear a policy that I think is workable and desirable, my objection is a matter of principle.
The Liberal Democrat MPs, all 57 of them (including Nick and Vince) ran on a campaign of a plan to eventually reduce student fees down to £0. They said this plan was fully costed and worked out. They also signed a pledge stating that they would vote against any raise in tuition fees for the entire length of the parliament. Therefore I don't see how any of the MPs can not vote against any measure (correctly or otherwise) and retain their credibility.
This isn't a make or break issue for me, mainly (selfishly) because I am no longer affected, however it will throw doubt on the party as a whole, it will also decimate our vote in the next election. I haven't been too perturbed by our ratings in the poles as I fancied that if the coalition does a decent job, gets the deficit down and has a growing economy in 2015 we should be able to campaign on the back of a successful mission in government, however renege on this promise and I cannot see younger voters voting for the Lib Dems again. This is an issue that is very close to their hearts because it matters to them. People may argue that they don't get involved in politics but those who go to university are more likely to vote than those who don't.
Take a town like Bath for example, the population is around 85,000, of that there is around 16,000 students. I'm not naive enough to think that every student votes for the Liberal Democrats, but the proportion is a lot higher. Should he not vote against the rise I can see Don Foster really struggling in 2015.
I know the Conservatives can twist the knife by forcing those in ministerial positions to follow the coalition vote (or face losing their well paid positions, I'm getting cynical now). I reckon they will have enough support from Labour to get the motion through with the Lib Dems abstaining as after all, they introduced the fees and were in favour of scrapping the cap all together, plus many of their shadow cabinet don't agree with Ed over a graduate tax. The problem comes with the Tories being able to use this as a possible reason to end the coalition, they can say that the Lib Dems had only promised to abstain on any vote, so basically they are between a rock and a hard place.
I will reitterate though that the only thing I think is feasible is for all Lib Dem MPs to vote against the proposal. Otherwise our reputation as a party will be damaged, probably beyond repair.
I know that no final legislation has been drawn up yet, but the only thing that Vince can recommend is something progressive, the current recommendations aren't progressive enough. Yes they charge interest on those who earn more than £21,000 above the level of inflation, however someone earning £50,000 will pay back less than someone earning £22,000, and will do so much quicker. I definitely would not advocate the prospect of people being penalised for paying it back early, this is a question of fairness, for everyone not just the poorest. This is not like a bank issuing a mortgage, they do this for pure profit, a government issuing such a loan is doing so at a subsidised rate and not doing so for profit, these should be there to help those who need it, not penalise those who don't. Also many current proposals have money recouped through the tax system, this doesn't then account for those who go on to work overseas, which effectively would result in them receiving a free education.
I am aware that this blog is a bit of a jumble of thoughts but here is what I think about the system.
- There is a cost that is associated with someone being provided with an education. These costs should be looked at to see if they are reasonable and if they can be reduced in any way.
- A student is the person that benefits most from their education, this is a choice they make and shouldn't be 'free for all'.
- Different courses obviously have different costs and values attached to them and as such should charge different amounts. I think it is clear that a degree from Oxford in Law should cost a lot more than a degree in media studies from Teesside. These should be monitered independently in order to ensure fairness.
- How much money you have should not be a barrier for entry when applying for university.
- Therefore government assistance should be given to those who need it - in the amounts they need it to meet these costs.
- Students should not be penalised for taking government help and therefore the loan should only rise with the rate of inflation.
- The only staggering I feel that should be done is the amount paid back should be increased as your wage increases. For example 2% of income between £15k & £20k, 5% between £20k and £30k, 10% between £30k and £40k and 15% for higher.
Those are just my thoughts, I'm sure better qualified people could come up with a better solution - however I maintain that the Lib Dem MPs cannot justify anything but voting against an increase given their previous pledges.