And this time we mean it...Lib Dems risk backlash with possible election pledge to cut tuition fees

 

The Liberal Democrats are considering whether to promise to reduce the £9,000 cap on university tuition fees in their manifesto at the next general election.

Senior Liberal Democrats sources told The Independent that the idea is among options being looked at by a working party on higher education policy.

The Government's decision to almost treble the maximum fee to £9,000 a year was the most traumatic one for the Liberal Democrats since the Coalition was formed. At the 2010 election, they pledged to abolish fees, for which Nick Clegg issued a dramatic public apology last September.

Some Liberal Democrats are worried higher fees may be deterring young people from going to university and want their next manifesto to include a plan to set a £6,000 cap, with the government making up an estimated £2bn shortfall in universities' income.

Insiders say the party's decision could be influenced by figures due at the end of this month on the number of student applications. Latest figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) show a drop of 5.6 per cent on the previous year.

But Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister responsible for higher education, is thought unlikely to support a lower cap. The Business Secretary believes the Ucas figures suggest that students from disadvantaged backgrounds have not been put off applying to university, partly because the loans covering fees do not have to be repaid until a graduate earns £21,000 a year.

The Liberal Democrats must make a decision on fees because, despite the Coalition's controversial decision, the party's official policy remains to phase them out. Its manifesto will be decided by the party's policy-making machinery rather than imposed by the leadership.

Cutting the ceiling to £6,000 would be difficult for Mr Clegg. It might look like yet another U-turn on an issue that has dogged his party, and finding an extra £2bn for universities might look unrealistic when public spending is being squeezed.

Labour has already proposed reducing the maximum fee to £6,000, with the money raised by reversing the Government's cut in corporation tax for financial services and increasing the interest rate on loans to the highest-earning graduates.

Nicholas Barr, Professor of Public Economics at the London School of Economics, said today that a lower cap would make sense to ensure enough people have a high-quality university education. He believes the Government went too far by ending the taxpayers' subsidy to universities, and says the axed teaching grant should be partially restored.

"What happened was destabilising for the [higher education] sector and, politically, we need to get back to something like a consensus," he said. He had "no doubt" the £9,000 cap was deterring some people from applying.

However, a 2011 study by CentreForum, a think tank with close links to the Liberal Democrats, found a £6,000 cap would be "clearly regressive", providing most help to graduates in their fifties earning £72,500 a year.

David Willetts, the Conservative Universities Minister, told the Commons last September that Labour's proposed £6,000 cap would do nothing for students, nothing for recent graduates because monthly repayments would not be reduced, and provide no help for the poorest graduates, who would be better off under the Government's scheme because they will not have to repay loans in full.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory