Tuition fees issue highlights the void of the left

Amidst several days of protests by students the coalition government managed to push through the tuition fee reforms by a very small margin in the lower house, with the upper house passing it yesterday. Understandably so, students are outraged at the two or three fold increase in tuition fees; fees which not that long ago were paid entirely by the state.

Universities need further funding given the larger number of people going into higher education but combine this with large-scale cuts made by the government lands the fee directly above the heads of students.

In a lacklustre attempt to convince the public, the Conservative party created a website outlining the issues: http://factsonfees.com/. Let’s look closer at the issues:

There will be an increase of fees from c£3000 to £6000 with the upper limit of £9000 for ‘exceptional circumstances’. The fear for this blog is that the £6000 generalised figure is merely made-up – many universities will charge well above this and certainly closer to the £9000 level.

Students will only start to pay back the fee after passing the threshold of £21k; an increase from £15000. This blog feels that this is slightly misleading as the value of £21k in 2016 (which is when they will revise the figure further) is worth £17848.50 in today’s money and only £15581.86 in 2005 figures (whereby the threshold of £15000 was created by the Labour party); not a hugely better deal.

This deal has been touted by the coalition as being ‘fairer’. The IFS agrees that the new reforms are indeed progressive with the poorest 20% based on graduate income level would pay less back than before. However, when based on parental income level everyone is worse off.

This blog feels that this is a question about debt-aversion. Those on lower incomes are far more debt averse than those at the top – if this leads to fewer poorer students going to university then this policy will look ideologically driven.

Furthermore, with the UK’s long term economic growth coming from high skilled and innovative labour, potentially stifling student numbers is concerning.

This precisely highlights the current situation the UK finds itself in. Where is the genuine communication from the coalition as to how these proposals are ‘fairer’? What analysis have they used to show that this will not stop students from going to universities?

More importantly it highlights the severe void of the left within British politics. What exactly are Ed Miliband’s policies? Where were the proposals and alternatives from the left? With the Lib Dems joining the Tories within the coalition there is huge potential to offer the British public a choice.

With Ed not sure whether he supports demonstrations or not, or how he is only recently winning his (incredibly inexperienced) Shadow Chancellor round to the graduate tax all point to worrying times for British politics. It is true that the party does not need to create a manifesto for the best part of four years but it is equally important not to simply watch the policies pass through. This blog feels it is both foolish for the party and damaging for the country if the Labour Party simply sits back and hopes for disaster.

We will have to wait and see if the number of students going to university from poorer backgrounds actually decreases. If this is the case then the reform will be perceived to be ideologically driven and the backlash from future cuts will be worse. Furthermore, if the numbers do decrease whilst simultaneously not promoting alternative solutions to careers (e.g. self-employment, social enterprise etc) nor eradicating the stigma attached to vocational courses then this country will be in a bad way within 20 years.

Having said this, a strong and credible democracy needs a range of alternatives and this is the responsibility of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition; hoping the country will fall to its knees and capitalising on it will seem disingenuous.

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