It's time for the Lib Dems to defend higher education as they once promised they would

 

On Monday morning, Nick Clegg promised that the government would not raise tuition fees to £16,000 – in response to Oxford boss Professor Andrew Hamilton’s claim that he’d like to be able to charge his students up to that much.

Clegg went on; "Whether you agree or disagree with the policy, whether you think it’s right or wrong, the really important thing to remember, and it’s been forgotten in the anger and all the rest of it, is if you're an eligible student, you don't have to pay anything up front at all and you don't pay back if you can't.”

These remarks will ring alarm bells for anyone passionate about education, and ensuring access to it is free and fair. Promises made by the Liberal Democrats (including Nick) in the run up to the 2010 election to “vote against any increase in fees”, were soon forgotten as Nick and 26 other Lib Dems voted in the same year to legislate for a rise in fees to their current rate of £9,000. It should be no great surprise then that this guarantee does little to reassure the student population.

This news comes at a time when the sale of student debt is at the front of many debt-ridden students’ and unemployed graduates’ minds, privatisation is sweeping across the higher education sector, and the cost of living is higher than ever for students. Today, the maximum tuition fee is £9,000 per annum, with the largest student grant only just over £3,000. How exactly this can be considered “right or wrong” is a mystery to me, and figures reflect this. In 2011, 20 per cent of pupils on free school meals went on to higher education, whilst 86 per cent of students from private schools made the transition. Something is wrong.

There needs to be a serious rethink of the way in which students and universities are viewed, both by the government and by those managing them. To claim that the past rise in fees, and any future ones, will not have an adverse effect on the most vulnerable and poor in society is preposterous. Nationally, young people from the most disadvantaged areas are three times less likely to enter higher education than those from the most advantaged. For Prof Hamilton to even propose fees of £16,000 suggests a total disregard for ensuring fair access to the country’s best academic institutions. Is it surprising that Oxford in 2012 offered only 57.5 per cent of its places to state school applicants, whilst over 90 per cent of children attend state schools?

It is time that the Lib Dems, and the Labour party (ideally the Tories as well), accept the fact that access to higher education is being adversely affected, regardless of their rhetoric. It may be reassuring to hear Clegg witter on about second chances, but the betrayal felt by students, young people, academics and beyond in 2010 rings loudly in our ears. Only this week, the UCU, alongside other higher education workers, have agreed to strike action. Students do not stand alone in wanting to withhold market forces and increase fair access in our universities.

Rather than conversing about how much we should be increasing fees, it is imperative we reexamine the notion of tuition fees as the status quo. One only needs to look up across the border into Scotland to see how free education can still be provided. The distractions that we face each time fee rises occur detract from the need to fight for free education to be restored in the UK.

Today, groups of students are planning direct action targeting the Liberal Democrats, and is this any surprise? The coalition partners have lied once, and lied again, and promises made by Nick Clegg can do nothing to shake off the stench of treachery. In 2010, students took to the street to fight fees increasing. Should the government, either in this term or next, attempt to do so again, I have no doubt that students past and present will do all they can, showing their “anger and all the rest of it” to ensure it won't happen.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
science
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links