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Friday, December 18, 2009

Liberal Democrats reaffirm opposition to tuition fees

Those who misinterpreted Nick Cleggs remarks about the affordability of the Liberal Democrats' policy to abolish tuition fees as an abandonment of that commitment must be sorely disappointed. For the party has reaffirmed its policy today and has put forward costings so that it can be included in our General Election manifesto.

In the briefing send out by Party headquarters the justification for the policy is made clear. They say that university is getting more and more expensive. To get a degree, young people are saddled with thousands of pounds of debt when it is tough enough to get a job, get on the housing ladder and make ends meet.

The Liberal Democrats are the only party which believes university education should be free and everyone who has the ability should be able to study at university and not be put off by the cost.

We will scrap tuition fees for all students taking their first degrees saving them over £10,000 each. We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the change is affordable in these difficult economic times.

While fees for full-time HE students are now repayable as part of the loan scheme, they still represent a significant burden on students. Taking maintenance loans and fee loans together, many students will be starting their working lives with a debt of over £20,000. This will create serious problems for people at the age when they want to settle down, start families and get on the property ladder. Scrapping fees would greatly reduce that level of debt.

We also know that people from low income families are more risk averse when it comes to getting into debt, and so fees are a barrier to widening the social basis of participation in HE. Liberal Democrats do not in any case believe the state should be encouraging people to get into a lifetime of debt.

The party says that it will pay for this commitment by cuts elsewhere in Government. This will include changes like abolishing the government Offices of the Regions (£340m), scrapping the Intercept Modernisation Programme (£200m) and scaling back Homebuy (£260m), prison reform (£560m) and reform of UK Trade and Investments (£60m). Full costings for all our manifesto proposals will be published at the time of the General Election. This is one of a very few major spending commitments that the Liberal Democrats will be proposing in our manifesto. We can afford to do this because we have gone further than any other party in setting out credible plans to tackle the deficit.

They go on: Nick Clegg has always been absolutely clear he opposes tuition fees and wants to scrap them. At the Party Conference he said he would only commit the party to it if it was affordable. This is a plan that makes it affordable - it defers a substantial amount of the cost until the economy and the public finances are in a better state, but it remains a clear plan to scrap fees for good.

It has always been the case of course that whatever Nick Clegg and the party in England decide to do it is up to the party in Wales and Scotland as to what our policy is going to be in the devolved administrations. Today's announcement will apply to Welsh and Scottish students studying in England as well as English students crossing the border.

What this does is offer an opportunity to the Welsh Liberal Democrats to press the case in Wales. While Labour and the Tories collude, with the support of Plaid Cymru to get fees off the agenda until after the General Election, the Liberal Democrats are the only party offering students the free education they deserve.

Whether full powers over tuition fees are in the hands of the Assembly by then or not, the huge amounts of money that this policy would bring to Wales, either through Barnet, or through a reformed funding system will mean that Labour and Plaid will have no further excuses not to reverse their betrayal of Welsh students.
Peter you probably do not read what the cowardly anonymous Labour creep(s) print(s) on their pathetic nasty INSIDE OUT Swansea Labour Web site, but they obviously read yours avidly. There is a comment there today about YOU Peter and Tuition Fees. It is Swansea Labour that has really lost the plot - in 1996 they had 57 seats on Swansea Council and now only have 27 seats - a staggering loss of 30 seats. More or less bleeding to death with incompetence, nastiness and internal quarreling and three more defections rumoured plus one rumoured imminent expulsion - they will then be down to only 24 seats. It's more like implosion than expulsion. Now they are also losing two Assembly Members who are giving up the ghost and one ancient MP. Soon Swansea might be "Labour Free". Can we hold a City Party to celebrate that coming day.
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