And this time we mean it...Lib Dems risk backlash with possible election pledge to cut tuition fees
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Wednesday 16 January 2013
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.
- 1 I was a Woman Against Feminism too
- 2 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 3 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 4 The Tory donor whose firm is one of Britain’s biggest tax avoiders - with HMRC's blessing
- 5 John Barrowman praised for Commonwealth Games opening ceremony gay kiss
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned
Peaches Geldof: Her final day – and her fatal decision
Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
Israel-Gaza conflict: Israel may have committed war crimes, says UN human rights chief
Peaches Geldof inquest: Tragic final days of mother-of-two's life reveal she lied to husband about failed heroin tests
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains
£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £25K: SThree: SThree Group has been well estab...
£20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...
competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client are a successful software hous...
competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...