The "a binman should not pay for the education of a middle class child" argument of the Blairites irritated me immensely for two reasons. First, when you start that stupid argument, where does it end? Do we say that this "binman" should not pay for the healthcare of the middle class child? Secondly, and the main reason why it irritated me was because it was always a middle class Blairite that pushed this nonsense argument, so I did the evidence-based thing and asked my uncle. He spent all his life as a refuse collector and I found that he was delighted that his taxes paid for his nephews and nieces to go to university and have the opportunity that he never had. He was also delighted that the NHS paid for the healthcare he needed, treating him exactly the same as a Blairite businessman on ten times his income.
So I have always argued against tuition fees, and I will also argue against Ed Miliband's graduate tax. The Lib Dems are rarely right, but they are right on one thing: we should get rid of tuition fees and make education a universal right. Personally I think the pledge to get 50% of young people into university was a silly one, for two reasons: first, half of young people do not want to go to university, and second, what about the other half? I would have supported a pledge of state funding for continuing education and training, at a level appropriate to the student. Further education and apprenticeships in this country have been woefully ignored, and now with the Conservative government's local authority cuts, further education colleges are going to take huge, possibly fatal, hits. We should have invested more in further education, instead of trying to fatten up the universities ready to sell them off.
So given that we have a stupid funding system and no cash to do the right thing, how do we make the best of a bad job? The last Government commissioned the Browne review which has been controversial in that it means raising tuition fees. It is delicious politics that those LibDems who publicly signed pledges to vote against rises in tuition fees will be voting for the rises. They will regret doing that (signing the pledge and/or voting for, or abstaining - which is the same as a vote for - rises in tuition fees). The LibDems claim that they have made a difference, they have altered the tuition fees policy to make sure that students do not start re-paying their loans until they are earning a reasonable income; they will argue that the policy has been structured so that the most well-off pay more. In fact, they are right about this, when you look at the policy as it was first published (but I would not say this to their face), they have had some effect.
However, as is typical with Lib Dems, they just cannot stick to a policy. No, they change the policy when you are not looking, and this is the case with tuition fees. They have just changed the details which will mean that students will pay considerably more. These details are outlined on the Exquisite Life website, which I quote here:
First, the threshold for graduate beginning to pay back their debts is £21,000 in 2016 prices, not 2012 prices. The difference is about £2,500 and means that students will both face higher monthly bills and have to start paying earlier.These are really serious changes and the Lib Dems who claim to have had an effect on this policy will now have a lot of explaining to do.
Second, the threshold will only be raised once every five years, not every year. "This makes a very big difference," said Dearden and increases the cost to all graduates.
Third, graduates will start paying the full rate of interest (3 per cent plus inflation) while still at university, not after.
The fourth issue is that Dearden suspected that the repayment period may have been lengthened from 30 to 35 years (it is currently 25). If true, this would push up the cost for any graduates that would have been let off their debts after 30 years.