One last tuition fee rant

The arrogance and ignorance of Liberal Democrat politicians continues apace, with Chris Rennard’s piece in the Guardian being the latest to defend the tuition fee policy, which is subject to a Parliamentary vote on Thursday evening.

Baron Rennard of Wavertree is the former Chief Executive of the Lib Dems, credited with such achievements as “inventing tactical voting” and “masterminding the Liberal Democrat by-election victories of the 1990s.” His constant manouevring behind the scenes brings to mind a sort of yellow Peter Mandelson, although to be fair to Mandelson he was at least elected to some of the roles he filled during his career.

Rennard begins his article by recounting his own story as an undergraduate and a beardless youth:

When I went to university in 1979, I had lost both my parents and had no family home or income. I finished first in each of my main A-level subjects but only a maintenance grant and the absence of fees enabled me to enter higher education.

The rest of the piece is a rationale of why he has decided to pull the ladder up behind him, denying the opportunity he enjoyed to countless others. Among the gems hidden in the article are confessions of his anger about “Labour’s broken promises” about tuition fees, and his excuse that “Labour … set up the Browne review without asking it to consider a graduate tax,” as if this was a plausible excuse for not formulating such a policy – as if a supplementary review, or even rejecting Lord Browne’s recommendations outright, were not potential solutions.

To be fair to Rennard, he discusses other reasons for rejecting a graduate tax, such as the serious incentive for university graduates to emigrate and avoid paying the tax altogether. While he is perhaps correct, his defence for the Lib Dems’ total abandonment of the other option – to scrap university tuition fees altogether – is lame and unconvincing:

[T]he post-election task of reducing the public sector deficit that was growing at the rate of £3bn a week could not have sustained a policy of simply scrapping the fees. To put it more simply, anyone earning £30,000 a year, spending £40,000 a year and already owing £40,000 would be forced to make painful cuts in expenditure.

The problem with this is that tuition fees have nothing to do with deficit reduction. The first revenues from the new tuition fee scheme will not come to the Treasury until 2016: after, according to the government, the deficit will have been eliminated. Secondly, the analogy of comparing the national budget to a household budget is disingenuous, as has been repeated numerous times since Margaret Thatcher first made the ludicrous comparison in the 1980s.

Then there is the standard “Coalition defence:”

The Liberal Democrats did not win a majority to implement their policy and the electoral arithmetic, the economic situation and the Labour party’s divisions pushed the party into a coalition with the Conservatives.

This, of course, ignores the fact that the Lib Dems’ broken promises on tuition fees are a matter of personal pledges, not of manifesto commitments. And finally, the most deplorable defence of all, that opponents of the policy are too ignorant and stupid to know what’s good for them:

[W]hen properly understood [the proposals] should not deter students from going to university.

No, Lord Rennard. We do not oppose the fees policy because we don’t understand it. We oppose the policy because it is regressive, divisive and unfair. We oppose it because we believe that education is a right, not a privilege. And we oppose it because we object to the concept of a generation that got their education for free preventing subsequent generations from enjoying the same benefit.

The tuition fee vote in the Commons is on Thursday. Tom Griffin has a breakdown of how the various Liberal Democrat MPs are likely to vote. In addition to the rebels listed, Conservative David Davis is likely to vote against the motion, with up to five other Tories looking like joining him. I have emailed my own (Conservative) MP in Worcestershire asking him to consider voting against as well, though I’m fairly sure he will back the government. Despite the rebellions, Eoin Clarke reckons a defeat for the government is unlikely. Nonetheless, the National Union of Students and other groups will keep up their activism – we can only hope for the small possibility that they are successful.

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1 Comment

Filed under Education, Politics, Things That Piss Me Off

One response to “One last tuition fee rant

  1. Steve Hoyland

    Of course anyone emigrating whilst still owing all or part of their university fees under a system of graduate tax could simply be sent a bill for repayment of the remainder. The preferred option however is education free at the point of use with the costs recouped, as for other essential services, via income tax, bearing down hardest on those who can best afford to pay.

    A refinement of this, pending the total abolition of fee paying schools, entry to which buys privileged life chances for those for whom it is purchased, would be to charge the full, true cost of a university education to those applying from such schools.

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