Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Vince Cable struggles to stem revolt on tuition fees.

David Cameron has already felt the need to apologise for cutting child benefit for some of Britain's richest citizens, and to admit that he had not included this proposal in his manifesto.

It's far worse for Vince Cable. Not only did he not mention the doubling of university fees in the Liberal Democrat manifesto, the Lib Dems actually made a specific promise to scrap tuition fees.

Lord Browne's review of university fees states that there should be no limit on the charges made by our top universities, meaning that some could now charge up to £12,000.

Browne's recommendations mean that tuition fees could double from the autumn of 2012, and even go higher to as much as £12,000. Browne said there should be no formal cap, but he expected the average cost of fees to be £6,000 a year.

He also appeared to confirm that the need for an increase in fees largely stemmed from coalition plans to cut the £3.9bn annual teaching budget for universities by up to 80% in the spending review next week, the assumption made in the Browne review.

Cable accepted that most courses will no longer be government subsidised and said there would have to be "very difficult cuts. Government funding for teaching will be replaced by graduate contributions – that is very clear and that is at the heart of the government thinking."

He did hesitate, however, over a key Browne proposal that some universities should be allowed to charge more than £6,000 in order to compete on the world stage.

The scale of the Lib Dem revolt ahead may be determined by whether Cable insists over the next six weeks that a new tuition fee cap should be set at £6,000 or thereabouts, or whether he succumbs to Conservative demands that the cap is lifted entirely for elite universities so long as they do not run discriminatory admission policies.

Cable did his best to explain this massive U-turn.

"The roads to Westminster are littered with the skidmarks of political parties changing direction."

He said: "I signed that pledge with my colleagues [but] in the current appalling financial situation … which we inherited, all pledges, all commitments, will have to be re-examined from first principles."

I don't see any skid marks made by the Tories changing direction. So far they are doing what they have always wanted to do and are busily setting about dismantling the state.

It is the Liberal Democrats who are having to abandon manifesto promises and commitments.

The reason some of us thought this coalition might work was because we thought the Liberal Democrats would hold the Tories back from their worst excesses. That's not how this thing is playing out.

The Liberal Democrats are abandoning manifesto commitments and don't appear to be getting very much in return.

I have no idea whether or not the party will revolt, but I am very sure that they will pay severely for this come the next elections.

Jonathan Freedland spells out the changes to how this country is viewing education.

Until now we have assumed that once you walk through the door into a universal, publicly funded service, cash should not enter your mind. When you visit a doctor, you aren't asked which pills you'd prefer: expensive ones or the cheaper alternative. The idea would appal us. We expect a public service to be undifferentiated by cost.

Thanks to Browne and variability of student fees from college to college, higher education will no longer be like that. In the process a precedent has been set, one that could well be followed across the public sphere. From now on, it will be acceptable to identify the benefit recipients get from this or that service and ask them to pay more for it. We could well be looking at the dawn of what my colleague Aditya Chakrabortty calls the pay-as-you-go state.

It fits with the picture emerging of how this government sees the public realm. Last week's move to end the universality of child benefit – removing it from higher-rate taxpayers – offered a glimpse of a smaller state, in which once universal services are provided in minimal form only to those with real need. In a financially cold climate there is hard-headed logic to such a scaling back – but we should not pretend that it does not entail a different vision of society, away from one in which there are ties binding us all and towards one that is more, well, transactional.
That's exactly what I thought was afoot when Osborne removed child benefit from high earners. It's the thin end of a very large wedge.

Cameron and the Tories are attacking the entire concept of universal benefits. They are seeking to impose a pay-as-you-go culture in which cash is the king.

It used to be supposed that university education benefited the whole of society, Cameron is seeking to make the individual receiver of that education a customer, who pays according to what benefits he receives.

It doesn't surprise me at all that the Tories, so many of whom were educated at Eton, would see this as fair. I am stunned that the Liberal Democrats, and especially Vince Cable, are even thinking of going along with this.

Click here for full article.

No comments: