I have not always been a proponent of the tuition fee system as I am now. When it was first announced by the coalition government specifically David Willets the then Universities minister I was shocked. After-all didn’t the Liberal Democrats just promise to make higher education free or was it a dream which had turned into a nightmare? This was a betrayal on the highest level; they had stolen votes off people (mainly students) and it felt like a moment where the Burk quote” the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” became real and very serious.
As the months passed the rhetoric ramped up leading to such proclamations by the then President of the Cambridge Student Union that the fees were “a cynical and damaging attack on our university system”. This rhetoric became silly claiming the plan was to dismantle universities and to keep poor people at the door of establishments which as UCAS has shown the opposite has been true as seen here. The protests went from good natured like the one at my college in Nottingham to outright thuggary, criminal damage and storming buildings. The tactics by some were questioned and rebuked.
The vitriol at the fees which couldn’t be stopped was suddenly thrown at the door of the Liberal Democrats and in particular Nick Clegg who went from being media darling to the grim reaper of bi-election candidates for his party. After-all they had made a high minded pledge to make a multibillion pound part of the government completely free surely they should be punished for this no? Well my answer is hasn’t he been punished enough? His leadership of his party is all but finished; his party has suffered in the polls unlike any other falling below the Greens which would have been unthinkable at the time of the last election. He must be the only party leader in history to publically apologise and have it turned into a song.
I think everyone agrees the Liberal Democrats shouldn’t have made that promise to students. However key factors need to be taken into account. The Liberal Democrats were on an electoral wave they had never seen before and needed to ride that crest and maximise their say in Parliament. The most likely result was a coalition and thus they were desperate for every vote they could hoover up much like any political party. The tuition fees have not been an outright disaster and have not stopped students from joining tertiary education. The fact that record numbers of poor and Black and Ethnic Minority students are now in Higher education is testament to that. The path the system was on was simply unsustainable and most people who knew about the subject would admit to this. More people were and are going to university if you want an expanded system then the money has to come from somewhere. Not only have the fees guaranteed the future of the higher education system in this country it has also ensured the loan repayments are fairer than under the former system. It is one of the rare pieces of legislation that is good news for pretty much most people as will be shown when earnings start to grow with the economy.
Labour are now playing around with the idea of lowering fees to £6,000 a policy which has a 10 billion pound black hole which no-one as of yet knows how they will fill. Chancellors and Vice Chancellors have already come out against this proposed move and when they come on television or write articles you can smell their worry about the future of their sector with this new idea. This in itself shows the policy working when an alternative is offered and a mass scramble to oppose it ensues. Students should forgive Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats realising the deal he got for them was good and the universities.
By Sam Mace, Senior Writer for Daily Political View.