As we zero in on next Thursday and the big vote on the trebling of tuition fees to up to £9,000 per year we’ll be hearing a lot of nonsense from Con Dem politicians about how this measure is needed to reduce the national deficit.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. This government has decided to cut the funding of higher education by 80%. Some institutions are set to lose 97% of their funding. To fill this chasm in funding the government has decided to shift the funding burden from the state directly on to the student. No overall increase for universities and not an extra penny for deficit reduction.
When you throw in accommodation costs it won’t be uncommon for students to end their courses with a £40,000 debt around their necks and by the time working class and middle class parents have tried to navigate their way around the complex system of grants, fee remission and variable fees – you’ll find many young people from places like the one I used to represent just won’t enter higher education anymore.
Yes, Labour introduced tuition fees. Personally, I accept that those that those who benefit from a university education should contribute something towards it. But Labour only introduced the system in order to grow and invest in the university sector – not to cut it by 80%. At present students contribute on average about 10% of the costs of their degree. That burden is about to be shifted massively away from the state and towards the student by this government.
To really rub the noses of aspiring families in it, the Con Dems will be taking thousands of pounds away from middle class families in child benefit – many of whom put this money away with a view to helping their children through university.
Labour should oppose any increase in tuition fees next week, and I’m sure they will. The Lib Dems are showing breath-taking hypocrisy on this issue – the Lib Dem candidate who stood against me at the general election sums it up when he shrugs his shoulders and fulsomely now supports a system that he was trashing when he signed the NUS pledge a few months ago. Instead, the Lib Dems now talk about the benefits of raising the salary to £21,000 before repayments begin (from £15,000) and they can’t understand why people don’t thank them for this.
The simple truth is this. Whatever the salary level you set repayment at, the vast majority of us are not prepared to see our children saddled with such a monstrous level of debt. Part of the reason the Liberals are facing such vilification across the country is because they could never come close to winning in places like Gloucester, but by telling outright lies about what they would do if ever they were in power, they were able to steel enough Labour votes to let Tories sneak in to our constituencies. But we mustn’t forget, regardless of their hue or political background, and largely due to a huge groundswell of student anger, every single MP will have to face up to their local constituents and explain why draconian cuts to universities should be funded through student debt.
I don’t think the government will be defeated in the vote next week, but they will lose the argument. This will be such a high profile vote that it will cost many a MP their career at the next election.
Parmjit Dhanda is a Matson resident in Gloucester.
He was Member of Parliament for Gloucester from June 2001 – May 2010