Last week Simon Hughes came out with a statement that the Liberal Democrats were still committed to abolishing Higher Education tuition fees, something David Brownsey-Joyce finds hard to believe.
It looks like the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats is already beginning his re-election campaign and possibly a challenge to Nick Clegg’s leadership of the Liberal Democrat Party.
The Deputy Leader told the BBC that he wished to see an end to tuition fees at Higher Education institutions but not until after the present Parliamentary term. Whether this is wishful thinking or a political venture the outcome will be the same, the retention of Higher Education tuition fees.
The reason I say this is that the course is set with funding from Government being withdrawn to universities the only other option is to have students pay higher levels. That is both a problem for the students and the Treasury. With students accumulating levels of debt similar to a small mortgage and an estimated 70% not repaying the full amount, the Treasury will have to find ways of plugging that gap as they provide funding to universities up front on the assumption that they will regain it through future repayments. Unless the Government opts to reduce the numbers attending university dramatically, then we are looking at the short fall being plugged through taxation.
Personally I would never find it believable to hear a politician say that they want to abolish tuition fees, it’s like the young girl who asks their parents for a pony with no inkling of the cost or associated responsibilities. We are simply too far gone along this course to turn away from some form of fees for students to attend university. Whether this is higher fees or a graduate tax, you’ve got to pay the piper little children.
The only way I would believe someone who said they were going to abolish tuition fees was if they were going to scrap the Trident programme or something similar to pay for it, along with reducing numbers attending.
Unfortunately that is something that no party will ever say as if you say that you are going to reduce the target from 50% attendance to 30% you would lose badly at the next election, simply because you would lose the middle classes. The upper classes can assimilate any increase in funding, the lower classes will receive higher levels of bursaries, scholarships will without doubt increase as a political olive branch, and the middle classes will as always get screwed as they are in the middle and are seen as squeezable on education.
Now before anyone jumps up and down and calls me an elitist, I would like to say that I want to see the best and brightest go to university, regardless of their background; I would love to see the abolishment of tuition fees to allow the best and brightest to attend regardless of background, but it just isn’t going to happen and any politician who says it is, is either lying or hasn’t thought about how they are going to pay for it in the long term.
I would think that Simon Hughes had better things to do than to set up his own party’s leader for a fall as he knows the Deputy Prime Minister signed a pledge not to increase tuition fees along with every other Liberal Democrat, the difference between then and now is that the Liberal Democrats have seen the state of the public finances.
What I think he should be doing is saying that the Liberal Democrats are committed to ensuring that the Government supports every child to reach their potential, whether that be academic or vocational, we don’t have nearly enough electricians or plumbers, skilled technicians that provide the backbone of this country’s infrastructure. When politicians are on TV talking about education all we hear about is degrees and to an extent A Levels, but what about those who want to develop practical skills? Why don’t we have the Government supporting apprentices on mass?
The reason is that for some bizarre reason skilled workers like plasters, builders, plumbers, bookkeepers, and others with more vocational based skills are considered by some people to be less prestigious. I personally don’t think it’s got anything to do with prestige I just think some parents don’t like the idea of their children becoming a builder or anything less than a getting a degree. A lot of young people will never even consider not going to university and we need to ask ourselves why?
If Simon Hughes really wants to signal that the Liberal Democrats are keen on education then he needs to signal it at all levels, he needs to consider that education can be the key to unlocking a person’s future but it does not have to follow the same path in every case; and where it does not lead to university he needs to consider how the Government can help develop that path instead.
There is simply too much emphasis on going to university and with the benefit of hindsight it just isn’t right for everyone, personally, if I could do it all over again and I knew what I knew now I would have seen whether there was an accountancy firm that would have taken me on as a trainee instead of going to university but then again going to university, studying Global Politics was one of the greatest times of my life, and who am I to say that someone else should not experience that.
I suppose that could be behind Simon’s words. That he doesn’t want to deny what he himself got for free, unfortunately like house prices, pensions and chocolate bars the cost has simply gone up and up and up, too much to let everyone have it for nothing.