I am utterly sick of hearing Nick Clegg and other Lib Dems reiterating their mantra that the package of proposals surrounding the rise in university tuition fees is progressive because it will hit higher earning graduates more than lower earners, because it is less punitive than the current system, because a few students from poor households may receive scholarships and because, outlandishly, the package will foster social mobility.
They don’t get it. Their pledge was to oppose increases in tuition fees and gradually to phase them out. The essence of this pledge was that the balance between state and personal funding of higher education was wrong, and that the state should shoulder a higher proportion of the costs. Furthermore, as Chris Goodall has noted, if we look at the costs of teaching an undergraduate, there appears to be no justification for universities to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees. The students who are protesting, and those of us who support them, do not believe that it is right to shovel a huge debt burden on their generation, and succeeding generations, in order to shoulder what are set to be the most prohibitive Higher Education costs in Western Europe.
Moreover, the abolition of educational maintenance allowances will prove a huge blow to any hopes of greater social mobility, as will in my view the general rise in the costs of higher education. I fear that these costs are likely to prove a major deterrent for children from poor and less well-off households who might otherwise have gone to university.
By the way, I also think that Labour are behaving like weasels. I doubt that the graduate tax is a genuine alternative to the coalition government's proposals. I trust that they will seek out a way of giving young people an equal and genuine opportunity of going to university that does not cripple them with debt afterwards.