Monday 6 December 2010

Letter No 3: Tuition Fees

As the vote on tuition fees looms, Gershwin's "Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off" seems an apt song for those amongst us disagreeing with the coalition’s plans for Higher Education. Though I've addressed Letter No 4 to Nick, really he and Dave should have more of a rethink. Interesting in the news today firstly that David Gauke will be announcing plans to crack down on corporation tax avoidance and that there will be a £150m scholarship fund – but are they going far enough? Senior Lib Dem backbenchers don’t seem to think so. The question posed in the current letter is just one of many which suggest that rushing through this vote now is a terrible idea. Remember, Dave has already said cuts won't be reversed once implemented:(2 August, at an event in Birmingham) "Should we cut things now and go back later and try and restore them later? I think we should be trying to avoid that approach".   Better to measure (at least) twice and cut once, I say.

I came across an interesting report by the Higher Education Funding Council For England, published this November. It shows the findings of a survey whose aim is to "develop a nationally representative picture of attitudes to public investments in HE and its perceived benefits to the UK economy."  The survey, carried out by Ipsos Mori, showed strong support for public investment in Higher Education. It seems that 80% of respondents said that "public investment in HE should either increase or stay the same". Not students, 80% of the public.  The survey included a cross section of adults aged 15 years and over, across GB and ran between 31 July and 6th August 2010.  I wonder if Dave has read this report? If he read it this week he would find that: "90% of those surveyed thought it was important for the Government to invest in HE, of which 59% thought it was very important" and "consistently around 70% of the respondents acknowledged HE's benefits to skills, business development, the arts, and the UK as an internationally competitive economy.”

What’s more, concerns of students and many academics were also expressed last month in this article in The TelegraphThey asked how a “supply and demand” model for arts and humanities might function in practice and, why is there such haste pushing for the increase in fees when as the Higher Education Policy Unit points out, the proposals for HE funding will “increase public expenditure through this parliament and into the next”? How does that fit with the story that these cuts are necessary to decrease the national deficit?
It’s starting to appear that rather than rushing this vote through on Thursday, much more time is needed to think through the issues that have been raised by so many people. I agree with the academics when they suggest “a Public Commission of Enquiry, which should include wide consultation with politicians, academics, students, business leaders and others to examine the function and funding of higher education from the first principles”. Excellent idea.  

One final thing: did you know that holding a vote on a Thursday, when many Scottish Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs will have left for their constituencies, would make it easier for the government to win without the Liberal Democrats?  No, me neither until reading this article in The Guardian .

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