Last April, I interviewed Nick Clegg on one of his two election campaign visits to Liverpool and questioned him on the issue of student tuition fees and the Liberal Democrats’ plans to scrap them altogether.
At the time he stated that his party would move to scrap tuition fees from day one in government:
We are the only party saying that we have a plan to remove tuition fees.
It is wrong, when a time that our economy is crippled by debt to ask other people to take on yet even more debt. The answer to debt is not yet more debt.
During the campaign, Clegg also signed the NUS’ pledge to vote against any rise in university tuition fees. Here he is with a copy of his pledge and as the New Statesman points out, this may be a picture that comes back to haunt the Deputy Prime Minister.
Tomorrow’s much anticipated release of Lord Browne’s review of university finances is expected to favour the introduction of higher tuition fees.
The coalition agreement provides the Lib Dems with a get out of sorts if it is determined that fees must be raised in that they are allowed to abstain on any such parliamentary vote. Yet abstention is definitely not voting against such a rise as Nick Clegg pledged to do earlier this year.
The party has certainly compromised on a lot of issues since going into government but there’s a difference between compromise and a total about turn.
A decision to merely abstain would deceive many of the young people who voted for the Liberal Democrats in the last election because of what they were saying about university tuition fees. Some would even call it a ‘betrayal’.
Off the back of Lord Browne’s report, it’s expected that most universities could increase fees to around £7,000 per year.
Some of the more prestigious universities could charge more than that whilst providing bursaries to young people from poorer backgrounds to meet the extra cost.
But this effectively creates a two tiered higher education system whereby those with more money have a much greater choice of where they go to university and what they study.
‘Betrayal’ is a strong word but what interests me more is the word ‘fairness’. We are constantly being told that the impending cuts will be fair.
But the idea of raising fees just doesn’t seem fair at all when a generation of students and graduates will be left with enormous amounts of debt before they even start off in life.