Thursday, October 14, 2010

Nick Why Aren't You Listening to Us?

I've just received an email from Nick Clegg, one which I am rather disappointed to have received. It is one to general members and not to the various PPCs like myself who signed the NUS pledge on tuition fees. Therefore it is addressing me as an ordinary member not someone who with the confidence of our funded manifesto, was confident we could honour our pledge not to increase the student cap no matter how bad the economy was. Who stood before various meetings, on numerous doorsteps and wrote many emails telling people we would and we could honour this pledge no matter what.

He starts (there are bits of Fisking in red by me):

I am painfully aware of the pledge my colleagues myself included and I made to you and to voters on tuition fees ahead of the General Election. Departing from that pledge will be one of the most difficult decisions of my political career it is one that after 22 years of struggling on this issue I still will not depart from. It means doing something that no one likes to do in politics – acknowledging that the assumptions we made at election time simply don’t work out in practice but our assumptions were to reduce it over 6 years before the election, now we are looking to increase. Surely the next logical assumption, a middle ground, is to hold off the reductions a bit longer. With the benefit of hindsight, I signed a pledge at a time when we could not have anticipated the full scale of the financial situation the country faces now and the absence of plausible alternatives for students to the arrangements we are now advocating.
He carries on saying:

We have broadly endorsed them but this is an enormously complex issue and we will take the time needed to get it right. Yet with the report announced at 9am we had Vince Cable fully endorsing it at 3pm. This despite it being a complex matter that we needed to get right. Even the coalition agreement allowed our Liberal Democrat MPs time to gauge what the Browne report said and to take action (admittedly only abstain) if it went beyond what we believe in. I think that applies to all our MPs up to the level of Deputy Prime Minister.
But I'm glad that part-time students are included in funding in the same way as full time students, that is a manifesto pledge delivered. I'm glad that Vince Cable still disagrees with a graduate tax as that is not progressive and discriminatory against graduates who fail to find graduate level employment.

However, I do have concerns about the final remarks:

The overriding principle for Liberal Democrats is that any system of higher education funding is fair I agree wholeheartedly. It should increase the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds Still agreeing; it should increase social mobility agreeing again; it should ensure fair access for all and not put anyone off attending university agree; it should increase the already world-class teaching and research at our universities agree; and it should ensure that those who earn more pay more agree.

Yet I agree with all this but it is not achievable under the Browne recommendation. The payments to some Universities will be higher to the prestige Universities will be higher. The number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds will be put off my fees which may be as high, or higher, than the family income. Social mobility will not be enhanced a the poor students will have to deal with the extra amount they have to pay back, at a commercial rate of interest. They'll be even more hogtied than the current graduates are. If penalising our students to increase world-class teaching and research is involved that is wrong. We pledge it should be free to all at the point of entry. As for those who earn more paying more yes. However, with lifting the cap all will be paying more to pay it back.

Yesterday there was a growing groundswell from MPs, PPCs other elected positions and ordinary members against the endorsement of the Browne report by "our" party. Linda Jack at conference asked Nick could we trust him with our party. Our party has told the leadership time and again down the years that we will not bend on tuition fees. Our party is telling him that again now, yet somehow he seems to be ignoring that, or the fact that we have a get out if we disagree with Browne, and is actually endorsing rather that saying we cannot support this and abstain.

Nick are you listening? We don't agree! We shouldn't endorse. Many of us are angry not with the Browne report but the way in which our leaders are rebelling against the will of the party on this. We are democrats it is the party that decides policy.


dougf said...

National Interest.

Look it up. Clegg has. Hard times demand hard measures. You might as well be Canute at the seashore as someone pretending that in a time of economic crisis, Universities can cost the State even MORE.

Stephen Glenn said...

We promised to look for fairer alternatives. Going from a promise to cut to a promise to rise does not strike a middle ground.

Do we really need 50% of the adulat population as graduates? Do we really need all of those degree courses as degree courses?

We used to advocate 1% on Income Tax to fund it, is this not the time to reconsider it? There are alreanatives. However, we had made arrangements for ever a very bad case scenario and we could as I said always refrain from the speed of implimentation. This was a central thrust around which other measures were worked.

I'm not facing the people I made a promise to and saying there is no other alternative, I'm looking for those alternatives.


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