This week parliament will vote on proposals to treble tuition fees for students – making them the highest of any public university system in the industrialised world. Labour will be campaigning more than ever to oppose them. I will vote against the Government on Thursday because their plans are not necessary, not fair, and not good for higher education.
Such high fees are not necessary. They are going up so much because the Government has chosen to cut funding for university teaching by 80% - when other public services are being cut much less. Labour would not make such big cuts to Higher Education teaching grants.
The government’s decision to shift the burden of funding higher education onto students is driven by ideology and not economic necessity. The need to get the deficit down does not justify a long term change in higher education funding which will be bad for universities and not save any public money.
These high fees are not fair because graduates will now have to pay much more over a longer period with middle income earners hit hardest. Graduates will be forced to pay the whole cost of most degrees (to replace the cut in funding), instead of sharing the costs with the state. As a result, graduates will pay much more overall, and pay back for up to 30 years.
This rise in fees is also bad for Higher Education. England’s world class university system has been built on public investment and trust in the professional academic leadership of universities. If the government’s proposals go through, this will be replaced by a market in higher education in which many students will be put off university and forced to choose the cheapest course rather than the one which is best for them.
We believe that universities should remain public institutions, receiving significant public funding. The Coalition’s plans undermine this very principle.
Labour believes the cost of higher education should be shared between the public and graduates. That’s why we believe in moving towards a graduate tax, where the highest earning graduates would make a fairer contribution. This is the only fair and sustainable way to fund higher education going forward.
I will not support taking away opportunities for people from Haslingden and Hyndburn to get a degree. So I will vote against the Government on Thursday.