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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Counting the cost

Higher Education Minister, David Willetts' view that the cost of hundreds of thousands of students' degree courses is a "burden on the taxpayer that had to be tackled" is at best unhelpful, at worse downright provocative.

He has taken the argument about tuition and top-up fees beyond the carefully crafted compromise of the Coalition agreement and started to make judgements on the value of a university education.

Whereas it is right that we should not be setting meaningless targets in terms of the number of students going to university and that we value vocational qualifications as an equally valid route, there is no doubt in my view that far from being a 'burden', students and the graduates they become are a valuable investment in this country's future.

It is for that reason that we need to widen opportunity and ensure that nobody is put off from going to university by the possibility of debt. We must also seek to prevent these graduates from being unduly penalised for the advantages that they get from bettering themselves.

It is right that we do not pre-empt Lord Browne's review into tuition fees and David Willetts has said that he does not wish to do so. However, I cannot see any other interpretation to his remarks.

The agreement on tuition fees in the coalition document is the most unhappy part of that deal. It goes against the party's instincts and we do not need to have upstart Tory Ministers rub it in our face.

The one hope is that as far as we are concerned the outcome of that review is not set in stone and that we may be able to mitigate its impact if it produces an unfavourable result. Certainly, we have the fall-back position of abstaining if necessary but I am sure we would rather be more constructive than that.

That is only possible if Tories like Willetts shut up and stop trying to steer the agenda in a particular way before that review has reported.
I know that schadenfreude is a very petty emotion Peter. But I can't help but enjoy your discomfort over this.

The Welsh Lib Dems were incredibly self righteous when Plaid accepted the reintroduction of top up fees (something I personally opposed).

Now you are on the verge of doing something much worse. The example you set means that you will get very little sympathy.

Good Luck
Except of course what is decided in England is not necessarily party policy in Wales as this is devolved policy. The issue with Plaid was that they reneged on their policy after signing up to something different in their coalition agreement. If they had signposted it in the One Wales document then we could have said that this was a consequence of coalition politics but they did not. I think that is a bigger betrayal. At least the Lib Dems have been upfront on what is possible.
Peter, your posting makes perfect sense and will_cc's logic is difficult to follow.
I voted for the Lib Dems based on their calls for a review on trident and their stance on tuition fees. It seems from Mark Williams and Roger Williams actions recently that Trident has already been forgotten about and now the party is about to u-turn on this. The sad thing is for me as someone who voted for you I don't believe Lib Dem MPs are backing these things per se just that they have gone in with the Tories and are being bounced into forgetting their election promises.
Ah yes the highly principled fallback position. You sit on your hands in the full knowledge that your abstention gives the Tories an effective parliamentary majority on the issue.
Of course Matthew if enough people had voted for us so that we had 326 MPs we could have done all of that. But they didn't and so we are working to mitigate the worst impacts of the Tories whilst putting in place a large number of Lib Dem policies.

On Trident the coalition agreement already commits to a review so there was no need for Mark and Roger to support a superfluous motion put in place to score political points.

On Tuition Fees the Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes has confirmed on Radio Wales in the last hour that we will be working within government to find an acceptable compromise so that we do not have to sit on our hands and which will help or at least mitigate the impact on students.

You will be aware of course that this just applies to England anyway as the Welsh Government can go its own way and here Labour and Plaid have agreed to introduce Top up fees.

And let us not forget why we are were we are. Labour broke and election promise to put tuition fees in place even though they had a majority and did not have to compromise with someone else. And Plaid Cymru ignored commitments in its own coalition agreement (not its manifesto note, which had been superseded by that agreement) and agreed to top up fees being brought in here.
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