Tuesday 7 December 2010

More Thoughts on Fees

1. Over the weekend a Liberal Democrat spokesman on Radio 4 invoked the "parlous state of the country's finances" as a justification for some of his colleagues' possible U-turn on fees (though he himself, bless him, was going to vote against.) But the fact remains that students will not be required to pay these fees "up front." so who will? The state, presumably. So if fees are increased the state will have to pay more than it does at the moment. So if the country's public finances really are parlous, these increases will make them even more parlous. There's the whiff of hypocrisy here.

2. More hypocrisy from the Labour Party. Clearly they're enjoying the Liberal Democrats' embarrassment, and doing their best to stir up ridicule, conveniently forgetting that thy introduced fees in the first place, firmly stated in their 2001 manifesto "We will not introduce top-up fees..." and then did, in spite of a whopping Commons majority and therefore no need to compromise with another party, and themselves set up the Browne Inquiry but as yet have made no clear response to it. What we need from Labour is their alternative. Knockabout rhetoric in Westminster and the media may be good fun but it does not advance the debate or define the options, not does it increase respect for politicians and the political process.

3. Ed Milliband is in favour of a graduate tax. So am I, but it does present problems , as outlined in an earlier post We need to know how Ed Milliband would deal with these, and what alternative his Shadow Chancellor, Alan Johnson, who doesn't agree with a graduate tax, has to offer.

4. Less debated, but in the long run as important as access to universities, is the reduction if not abandonment of funding to subjects other than those the government thinks necessary for economic advancement. This Philistine attitude is disgraceful. Universities are for the exploration of knowledge, whether or not it is deemed "useful", and education at all levels, from infant to post-doctoral,is for the he development of human personality, potential and talent in whatever (legal!) field.

5. As the UCU has pointed out, the additional income from raising our Corporation Tax to the OECD average would provide all the funds necessary to finance higher higher education for free in all areas. Only the Greens, so far as I know, have the guts to propose this alternative. Perhaps the fourth option introduced recently by some Liberal Democrats, to postpone the fees vote and have another long hard think, which should include this proposal, is the best in the present circumstances.

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