So this week has been characterised by one of the key flaws of a coalition: mixed messages. The first dent in the Government’s seemingly bulletproof windscreen was the unfortunate resignation of David Laws. Then came comments that Theresa May is not fit to be Home Secretary because she voted against gay equality. Now, a much more significantly, the outcast fractions of both Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are gathering and making a lot of noise. As the silly man in the Autoglass advert says, if you don’t fix a dent in your windscreen, it could become a crack. In the Government’s case, this could be an imminent worry.
The mixed message has arisen from one of the Liberal Democrat’s greatest policy compromises, no university tuition fees, a cause the Liberals can champion as much as they like as “the Third Party”, but is not fiscally viable as a policy option. In an interview with the Guardian, David Willetts warned that the cost of university tuition was a “burden on the taxpayer that had to be tackled”. Surely this is a statement for the Chancellor to say, Willetts should be quietly championing universities and training. If he sees university education as a burden on the taxpayer, I do not think he is a suitable man to be put in charge of university education. Seated just feet down the frontbench is Simon Hughes, the recently-elected Deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, who told BBC that “it would be wrong to put more financial burden on students by way of tuition fees.” Where does the burden lie? Who’s interests do these politicians represent? Willetts is going beyond his university portfolio to get his name in the press for future career prospects. Hughes is alienating himself from the Government to retain his party an ounce of dignity.
The Labour government set a target in 1997 to have 50% of school leavers in further education. This brought about the invent of vocational “soft” courses (fashion should be studied at a fashion college, not a university) and funding spent on improving infrastructure to house the increase in students, not on teaching. In order to pay for this policy failure, university funding should be increased. This should mean a combination of ringfencing university funding, higher tuition fees, deregulation of financial control into the hands of the universities themselves and finding innovative ways to make money. Universities should hold more fundraising opportunities for alumni to invest in their beloved former institutions. Increasing efficiency by cutting permanent staff in canteens and libraries and hiring cheaper student labour.
Raising tuition fees does not mean pricing out the poor. University education is unsustainable at present, and with a 16.5% increase in applications from last year, an increase expected to be bettered next year, reform of the system needs to be pushed through quickly.
I am offended that the Government sees me as a burden. Equipping our generation with the skills to compete in a global jobs market should be imperative for the future of economic growth in this country: as it impacts the future of science, innovation, investment, enterprise, culture and academia for generations to come. Albeit, the previous government ruined further education prospects for today’s graduates and school leavers. But our new Government needs to be careful not to alienate an already disaffected portion of society. Calling us ‘burdens’ won’t help your street cred.