BBC BLOGS - Nick Robinson's Newslog
« Previous | Main | Next »

Tuition fees for beginners

Nick Robinson | 10:22 UK time, Wednesday, 8 December 2010

I'm well aware that the politics of tuition fees can seem complex, even Byzantine. So, here's my brief, easy-to-understand guide:

The minister who introduced student tuition fees now says a graduate tax may be better even though he once described the idea as unworkable...
he's opposing the man who pledged to oppose any increase in fees who now insists it's the right thing to do...
... who's in coalition with a man who wrote a manifesto promising that his party would scrap fees but is now planning to double them.

Easy really, isn't it?

If you like detail here's a longer version with more facts:

Labour introduced tuition fees having come to power saying it had no plans to do so* and after promising in its 2001 manifesto that "We will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated to prevent them".
The minister who pushed fees through the Commons in 2004 was Alan Johnson. He admitted later that Labour was open to the charge that it had broken its manifesto pledge.** Behind the scenes he had fought and won a battle with the then-Chancellor Gordon Brown and his advisor Ed Miliband who wanted to introduce a graduate tax. Mr Johnson advised Labour's new leader "for goodness' sake, don't pursue a graduate tax"*** and has consistently argued that a graduate tax won't work.****
However, today the shadow chancellor tells the Times [subscription required] that his leader - by strange coincidence Ed Miliband - is right that "there is a strong case for a graduate tax, which may offer a fairer way of sharing costs between individuals and government."
The Conservatives opposed fees - including David Cameron, who wrote the party's 2005 election manifesto which promised "We will restore real choice in higher education by scrapping fees". He and they now say that choice will come by doubling fees.
The Lib Dems opposed fees, then pledged to oppose any increase in them and now say that that is, in fact, the right thing to do even though, they also say, that it's not what they would have done if the electorate had elected a Lib Dem majority government.
Surely this spectacular series of U-turns deserves a doctoral thesis or, perhaps, a long series of sessions on the psychiatrist's couch?
* Questions to Tony Blair - "Will Labour introduce tuition fees for higher education?" His answer - "Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education." (Evening Standard, 14 April 1997)

** "Is the party open to the charge that it has broken a manifesto commitment? Yes. Is that crime of a century for a government? No." (Independent, 26 January 2004)

*** "Oh, and for goodness' sake, don't pursue a graduate tax. We should be proud of our brave and correct decision to introduce tuition fees. (Independent, 26 September 2010)

**** "Well, I don't think [a graduate tax] could [work]. Frankly, there's a difference of view...I feel it's going to be very difficult to make a graduate tax a workable proposition." (Telegraph, 4 December 2010)


Page 1 of 3

  • Comment number 1.

    Now, surely for you Nicholas, for any political journalist, this is manna from heaven.

    So much twisting, so much spinning that you've almost been gifted with a perfect storm - the leaders and senior members of all three parties caught out, bang to rights and duly hoisted on their own petards.


  • Comment number 2.

    Amoebic democracy!

  • Comment number 3.

    I suspect the left leaning bloggers will still say that higher education should be paid for by the tax payer . Which is a noble idea in eutopia. However we live in a world where to many people are asked to get a degree ,even if the job they aspire to dose not need one. All parties have changed thier possition during the last decade and I agree that its not crime of the century. I think that the people who go into higher education will now have to make a more informed choice because of the way its now going to be funded and that could be a good thing .

  • Comment number 4.

    it was easy to vote against university fees when there werent so many got to uni. a lot of the ex-polys have no idea of what university education should be about - a mixing of the brightest and best- i was a b a student in art when it really meant something the were 4 courses nation wide now there are fifty - and mixed with medics engineers etc and all races ,it changed my attitude about life as well as my subject. colleges with limited facilties and and dead beat spoon fed courses have created this crisis which was begun as usual by good old blair

  • Comment number 5.

    I agree with Finbar, very delicious and very funny. Will they learn? Not likely as Labour are rushing to grab as much popular support without considering the consequences.

  • Comment number 6.

    This is not a balanced version of events. Times have changed; the country is a very difficult economic situation where choices have to be made on a scale not seen often before.
    Also, we have had a review of university funding by Lord Browne following which the parties need to make up their mind what to do.

    The notion that politicians can't change their minds whatever the circumstances is ill-founded. The important point is whether or not they develop the right policy to deal with the matter when action is needed.

  • Comment number 7.

    Yes all the parties have been two faced on the issue - no doubt. But other making us cynics smile surely what we all want is a good policy outcome.

    At present what we have is chaos. The Coalition Governmet has announced two sets of concessions just this week. We also have the ludicrous situation where the policy to be voted on in the National parliament will not apply in Scotland or to Welsh students. Is there any sensible explanation for that outcome?

    Given that this policy does not come into effect until 2012 I do not quite understand why it is the Government is seemingly rushing through the most controversial element of the policy this week. Are they afraid the student protests may be build and gain traction? Or are they worried the Coalition may not last long enough to implement the policy?

  • Comment number 8.

    Doctoral thesis? - provided the student can afford the fees. This is nothing but privatisation of higher education and letting market economics corrupt academic pursuits. It is just the beginning.

    Politicians should not be confused about why they are held in such low esteem by the public and why Johnson is still in a key position in the Labour Shadow Cabinet is beyond good taste and reason.

  • Comment number 9.

    'What a tangled web we weave.......when we practice to deceive'

  • Comment number 10.

    This post needs to be read in the voice of Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister.

  • Comment number 11.

    All so very brutish and sad. Education for education’s sake – the idea that young (and not so young) people, if they so choose, spend 2 or 3 years in tertiary education studying what floats their boat, specific job related or not - I think it’s important we don’t lose this. The criteria for access to such education should be ability and desire to do the subject – no role whatsoever for parental means. This is preferable to a targets-based approach, either the 50% or a reactionary rowing back to something like 20%. If we have a goal, it should be 100% - i.e. if you’re willing and able to do it, you can do it. With everyone living longer and working later (retirement at 75 looks on the way in the foreseeable future), a model whereby most people don’t start work until their early twenties makes sense. The Alan Sugars of this world who want to be whizzing around buying and selling things before they start shaving are perfectly free to do so, of course. Each to his or her own.

    And let’s not overplay the academic aspect of tertiary study; vocational courses are also important and it’s undeniable that certain disciplines can be of more practical use in career development than others. But that’s fine, it’s not a problem – the fact that maths and physics, say, and plumbing, or nursing, are more obviously “useful” than the likes of ancient greek or history of art will make those courses more popular (due to increased job prospects, if in fact they are increased). I say “if” since the actual skills you need in the modern white-collar workplace are not really related to any particular degree discipline. A maths graduate is no more inherently capable of managing his hard disc and communicating with other people than anybody else. This link – study to job – is only there overtly for the vocational courses; you do a degree in engineering or nursing or plumbing or graphic design, you’re well placed to become an engineer, a plumber, a nurse, a graphic designer.

    There’s the matter of funding, of course. How do we pay for this? Depends who the “We” is. Making the students pay brings intractable problems since most of them don’t have the money. Loans are out (parental means come into play ... verboten) and so is the gimmicky graduate tax. Leaves the obvious, fund out of general taxation, and this is what I favour. Rather breaks the cross-party consensus that income tax must be kept at bargain basement levels, but it’s what I’d like to see.

  • Comment number 12.

    Nick, please stop linking to websites that require a subscription or other payment.

  • Comment number 13.

    Cassandra (and anyone else interested).

    The issue needs to be sorted out now so that whatever change is agreed can be introduced in 2012. The people who will start degree courses in September 2012 will start applying for their courses in September 2011. That's only 9 months away and the Universities need to work out what fees they will charge, possibly at different levels for different courses and have all the back-up material ready for the start of the application process.

  • Comment number 14.

    11 "The criteria for access to such education should be ability and desire to do the subject – no role whatsoever for parental means."

    So we take no account of parental means? Good, so please stop droaning on about wealthy parents.

    "Loans are out (parental means come into play ... verboten)"

    Too late.

    "fund out of general taxation, and this is what I favour."

    Is it a badge of honour that you must always choose a course of action that is unworkable and that no-one else favours?

  • Comment number 15.

    1/ The tuition fees were introduced to top-up university incomes to enable them to compete, not to replace government investment.

    2/ The Lib Dems made individual signed pledges in addition to the manifesto commitment. The pledges began 'I will..' not 'We will...'. They used this to attack opponents during the elections.

    3/ The coalitiotn agreement was negotiated in private yet so far none of the negotiators has said, as far as I am aware, thet it would have been a deal breaker if they had stuck out for their position on student fees.

  • Comment number 16.

    At least this tale of shifting by all should spread the blame around somewhat. None of them has any idea what they want to do, clearly.

  • Comment number 17.

    11 - "How do we pay for this? Depends who the “We” is."

    No doubt it won't be you.

  • Comment number 18.

    The only way a business can grow is to invest up front either in skills or in R&D, this is also true for a country. Apparently our current leaders on all sides don’t seem to understand it, possibly because so many of them left University to become Party apparatchiks and have never had to grow anything other than their own prejudices. All investment is a risk and higher education and training fits this perfectly, we don’t know what skills will be needed in 5 years time far less in 30-40 years time. This is why education and training should be subsidised by Governments and not individuals, the benefit of a wide range of education and training is to the whole community and not always to the individual. One thing is certain this country needs more trained wealth creators (NOT BANKERS!) and to disincentivise education at this stage is totally ludicrous! This is not a Right/Left wing debate this is much more important and is about what sort of country do we want to be. People who claim that too many people are being educated should consider the alternative. How many poorly paid unskilled jobs can this country sustain that will have to be subsidised in some way by the skilled wealth creating workforce. This unskilled workforce will be competing against developing countries wage rates and to be competitive and allow the people doing the work to have a living wage the rest of us will have to subsidise them (and I include protectionism as a form of subsidy) or watch them starve to death.
    In the midst of all this to introduce a market in higher education is an act of economic vandalism. We need more trained people, both academically and vocationally trained and this policy will result in fewer trained people and in the end these people will be subsidising more and more people. They will be the ones who complain about their taxes and, because they are trained, will emigrate.
    I suspect that if we changed the words the attitudes of people would train instead of “pointless degrees” we talk about an educated and trained work force fit to compete in the global economy then attitudes might change. I deliberately put training in here as I suspect that is the problem with this debate, e.g. all tertiary education needs to be academic and only academic training needs to be paid for (patent rubbish). There is a need for an enormous variety of wealth creating skills both traditionally academic and traditionally vocational (after all Medicine is a vocational training but is also highly academic!) and the job market needs both. English graduates can create wealth, Journalism, TV production etc. etc. so do Engineers etc, however so do people who develop "skills" plumbers, brick layers, customer service reps and this people also require training and this should also be subsidised to the benefit of all of us. I really believe that subsidising education and training benefits the whole community increases the wealth creation capacity of the country and hence its quality of life. It is also a lot less expensive than subsidising unskilled workers throughout their whole careers while also criticising them for the subsidies that they receive.

  • Comment number 19.

    This is all about having the money to give the bankers a nice juicy tax cut before the next election, just wait and see. Tory, Lib-Dem or Labour it makes no difference. You don't count. You are nothing. You are not a banker.

  • Comment number 20.

    andy @ 14

    As an egalitarian, I favour policies which de-couple life prospects from parental wealth. Making education very expensive does the opposite and thus, not surprisingly, I'm in the anti lobby.

    Unworkable to fund out of general taxation? Yes - but only, as I say, if we stay boxed in by the consensus for low tax. Shake free of that and many things become possible, including free at PoD tertiary study for all who are able and desirous.

  • Comment number 21.

    20 - "Yes - but only, as I say, if we stay boxed in by the consensus for low tax."

    YOU may consider a (soon to be) tax rate of 42% on income as low as £43k a year to be 'low tax' but most do not.

    Ever wonder why there is a 'consensus' regarding the problems with raising yet more tax from the same people? Things like there aren't enough very wealth people to make a difference and you don't get more tax out of them anyway...that sort of thing.

    There's a consensus for a reason. Actually for lots of reasons. And they're all good ones.

  • Comment number 22.

    Why do we have a problem with University funding?

    The idealists on all sides of the debate argue hard for their point of view. The students believe in the notion of free education for all (especially for them), the tax payer argues for someone else paying for their own future for once, and the politicians bounce around unrealistically in the middle somewhere.

    However, all of this is completely pointless unless we understand why we have gotten to this point in the first place; and in understanding the origins of the problem, maybe there is a chance to to create a workable solution.

    The Numbers

    The main crisis is one of simple multiplication; there are vastly more people attending university now than there were in the 1950s and 1960s. Back then around 1 in 20 of young people went onto higher education; this last year that figure is working its way towards 1 in 2. To make it worse, we have a higher population now.

    To be able to fund ten times as many people as were funded in the 1960s is out of the question, and the cost of the education has risen as colleges have had to become more computerised meaning that there is a technical cost even for courses that just study the poems of Wordsworth.

    Why has this changed?

    For the answer to this you need to look at not just government aspiration but the actual industries that the universities feed.

    My father was a bank manager in the 60s and 70s. Computer systems were almost non existent in the branches back then so the manager and the staff not only had to know how to sell to customers but how to calculate all parts of the businesses from interest rates to mortgages - no mean feat. However, the only qualifications needed to start on a managerial career path was a couple of A-Levels. Why? Simply because the bank would supply all the training that was required.

    As times changed, the banks moved from requiring A-Levels to requiring degrees. Initially it was seen as a way of reducing applications - if you insisted on a degree, the people with only A-levels got removed from the pile immediately.

    However, many parts of industry, not just banks, realised that huge savings could also be made if they encouraged the creation of the right sort of degrees; they could halve the amount of training that they had to do themselves which for some industries was a significant saving.

    Suddenly, all sorts of jobs that had never required degrees previously stipulated them on their applications. Now we have the situation that if you do not have a degree, the chances of getting onto a higher career path in any business is almost zero - many of our fathers would never have been allowed the careers that they were so successful at.

    Ironically, because of mass computerisation of our world, many of the jobs are probably simpler than they were thirty or forty years ago!

    Isn't the modern way better?

    No, quite simply. In a bid to reduce business training costs and by using degrees as an unfair filtering system for applicants, we have lost so much that we had before.

    We have lost the loyalty to a company that is grown out of joining at a young age.

    We have lost the core apprenticeship style training and replaced it with a hollow, holistic education that does not equip the graduate as well as the apprentice who is trained from scratch by people actually on the job.

    We have lost the exposure to working with colleagues and the public that is a valuable part of growing up and replaced it with trying to educate people in customer relations - a tick box approach to relationships rather than an instinctive one.

    And most of all, we have created a huge financial cost for the tax payer and the students that was previously paid for by the companies that actually get the benefit.

    There will always be a need for higher education; there will always be subjects such as physics or history that require a huge, academic educational basis before you can even start to think of how to make a living out of them.

    But by insisting on an academic education for careers where it is simply not needed has not only created an unsustainable system, but also meant that we are losing all those clever, creative and entrepreneurial people who are barred from entry simply because they dont have a degree that they will never ever use.

  • Comment number 23.

    20 - "As an egalitarian, I favour policies which de-couple life prospects from parental wealth."

    Why is it egalitarian to wish to prevent parents from helping their children? My parents brought the 'Children's Britannica' books for me and my siblings as children. Would you ban that? Your pathological dislike of wealth (unless it's your own) clouds your judgement and produces wholly illogical results. You dislike the idea of parents funding their children through Uni. How about setting their children up in business? How about buying them a car? Or setting them up on the property ladder? All of these would be beneficial to 'life-prospects' so presumably you're against them. You can't rationalise this illogical stance.

    Are you seriously, honestly saying that if a child of yours came to you and said they'd got themselves into debt and faced real problems....might lose their house or job...and you had the funds to help them that you would refuse to do so on the grounds that there might be some parents who couldn't afford it so it would be an unfair 'life prospect' if you helped your own child?

  • Comment number 24.

    This is a perfect example of the paucity of modern politics, populated by mediocre individuals bereft of ideas and unable even to keep their 'word' once given. None of them could organise a party in a brewry, and we could not rely on them to hold it on the day that they said they would! In fact, they'd probably have run off with the ticket money.

  • Comment number 25.

    sagamix 11

    ' The criteria for access to such education should be ability and desire to do the subject'

    What level of ability and what level of desire ? What if their desire comes from wanting to ****y about at the tax payers expense for 3 years ?

  • Comment number 26.

    I don't know what the fuss is about. Any graduate who wants to avoid paying back the loan simply needs to move abroad.

  • Comment number 27.

    Newlabour, having promised not to introduce tuition fees, saw the opportunity yet again to raise more money.

    Foolishly, they treated all money raised as part of their 'sharing' pot for Gordon Brown to dole out at pre budget reports and budgets.

    This model persisted for ten years as the economy was leveraged, Gordon Brown strapped on the afterburners and the newlabour spending machine went into overdrive.

    Suddenly the crash came... as all crashes do and the revenues raised previously turned out to be unsustainable. But no plan was put in place to stop the spending because 'giving Gordon' couldn't bring himself to admit that this giant ponzi scheme had collapsed.

    Gordon fought an election half heartedly promising to be more careful with other peoples' money in the future but he lost the trust of the electorate. We are where we are with no revenues to pay for all Gordon's public sector spending, so the coalition have to put up tuition fees again to pay.

    We sincerely hope this time the money will go directly to universities and not into Gordon's spending pot.

    Next upo are green taxes... currently just swallowed up by Gordon's old treasury with no accounting for where they are spent.

    Then Gordon's book, claiming he knew nothing about these nasty bankers despite his urgent need to spend their taxes.

    What a shambles of a country newlabour has made of us. Eternally unaccountable and profligate this ship will take a decade to turn around. But with the eternally indomitable spirit of the British people we might be smiling again in five years to wipe the labour party off the electoral map for ever.

    it's a great time to be a tory...

  • Comment number 28.

    Hastings @ 22: Very well argued, and very possibly entirely correct. Expect incoming fire from the "all ought to be able to go to university at someone else's expense" lobby.

    I wonder how students would have reacted if the coalition had backed down and said "OK; we'll cancel the increases in the threshold at which income tax will become payable to fund you". Being students they would probably have said "thank you very much" and not concerned themselves about those who would lose out by any such change.

    Come to think about it I wonder how the LD back benchers would have dealt with the same idea.

  • Comment number 29.

    A report from the OECO or something close to that in Scotland has concluded that even with improved conditions for most of the teaching fratenity for primary & secondary recipients, statistics suggest that any resulting improvement of end of schooling standards of students is marginal or I quote 'Treading Water'. In a nut shell teachers improved pay / index linked pensions & better holidays including some working in state of the art schools has resulted in 'Treading Water'.......Makes you ask the question why so much emphasize on higher education when we struggle to improve foundation teaching.............

  • Comment number 30.

    Yep Pauln @ 13 that reasoning might make sense if the Coalition was introducing the legislation to implement the new system. But as I understand it that is not what they are doing. They are simply having a vote on part of, or the principle of, the new system.

    Fair play - the Tories knew this would be highly controversial and divisive so rushed through a vote asap after the release of the Browne Report. Smart politics but not so good as a policy making process. I can't believe the LibDems let them get away with it.

    The approach guarantees real problems for the poor old Lib Dems

    - Saint Nick and Vince are besmirched; and

    - they are robbed of the foot soldiers for the AV referendum.

    What this whole issue has shown me is that Osborne is a great strategist, Cameron is a reasonable domestic PR man (but not so good internationally - India, China, World Cup) and Clegg is well meaning but hopeless at the political "dark arts" (and perhaps the same can be said of Miliband)

  • Comment number 31.

    Labour's in disarray (again).

    Just as I thought there was at least one sane voice in the Shadow Cabinet, Alan Johnson decides to join in the lunacy.

    We're in an invidious position. But of the two unappealing options, i.e. a reformed tuition fees model or a graduate tax, the former is infinitely better than the latter. Which is precisely why Ed Miliband prefers the graduate tax.

  • Comment number 32.

    One unfortunate consequence of the focus on who should pay for higher education is there has been no debate on how much should be spent. This is a sector that has enjoyed particularly benign conditions over the last decade

  • Comment number 33.

    We should ask what sort of country do we want in the future. I think that we can calculate, at least in broad terms, the sort of jobs needed in the future and the skill or qualification levels needed to fill them. In any society there is a need for unskilled or low skilled workers, so a target of 100% of people having tertiary education may not be sensible even if we could afford it. I daresay that there are those who currently receive little benefit from education beyond the age of 16, are such people to be condemned to study until their early 20s?
    The real question is then how should tertiary education be funded. Some will say from taxation. The question then is how much funding is needed and how do we increase direct taxes further when we have rates of 60% or more, in some cases much more. An alternative way is to consider what cuts (public and/or private) could be made to enable increased spending on education. Should employers fund, in part or in whole, some education / training in order to secure new employees with the desired qualifications or skills?

  • Comment number 34.

    #22 Hastings

    Hit the nail on the head there!

    I work in telecommunications and nearly every position requires a degree. There are always a good few vacancies as most employers don't really want someone straight from university with a technical qualification - they want someone who can do the job and has the know how to get it done

    My last two positions required a degree (which I don't have) but I got both jobs anyway over and above very well qualified grads; the reason being I have spent 14 years learning the trade from the ground up and know it inside out. A lot of firms won't invest the years it takes as there is no loyalty any more

    I feel sorry for a lot of graduates looking for work - they are told their degree is not good enough or that they have no experience. The number of proper graduate jobs is tiny compared to the number of people chasing them

    We need to reduce the number of people going through university education and introduce technical on the job training and apprenticeships again. Simply trying to get 50% of the population through university just to tick a box will not work

  • Comment number 35.

    "As an egalitarian, I favour policies which de-couple life prospects from parental wealth."

    You know, some of the great, uneducated unwashed like lefty11 would actually swallow that as well. They'd actually think you meant it.

    What about the policy that would say you cant keep on living rent free in Mother's grand inherited pile in Hampstead and have to end up in your Swindon bedsit for the rest of your natural? Be in favour of that too, would you? Would certainly de-couple quite a few of your life prospects from parental wealth...

  • Comment number 36.

    'The Conservatives opposed fees - ... He and they now say that choice will come by doubling fees.'

    There's a slight difference though isnt there Nick ? In 2005 Labour hadn't yet completed their wholesale destruction of the UK economy and we didn't have £150bn deficit to deal with. The Tories changed their minds whilst in opposition and only after a change in leadership. Not sure what Tony Blairs excuse was.

  • Comment number 37.

    andy @ 23

    No, I don't mean that. Great for parents to help out their children in whatever way they can and see fit.

    All fine.

    But the system shouldn't work this in as a virtual pre-requisite. The system should promote equality and the de-coupling of life chances from parental wealth.

    On your other points (at 17 and 21). Funding out of general taxation means by taxpayers now or in the past, or in the future. Pretty much all of us.

    And £43k is a low income? Well it's almost double the national average so not sure about that. But, yes, it is about choices and priorities. As for our level of spending on higher education, it's low compared to many other countries. There's scope to do a lot more and a lot more is what I want to see us doing.

  • Comment number 38.

    It looks rather as if anyone who is actually responsible for doing something realises that it has to be fees; anyone who isn't responsible and doesn't actually have to deliver would like to have a graduate tax.

  • Comment number 39.

    jobs @ 25

    There'll always be some of that - frankying around - but we shouldn't base policy on assuming the worst in our young people, we should base it on expecting the best.

  • Comment number 40.

    As the whole of society benefits from the skills of our people that come from the state education system, why should it be right to pay for this out of general and local taxation up to the age of 18 in England, whilst the student should bear nearly the full cost after that, but only in England, not in N.Ireland, Wales or Scotland?

    Why are we bothering with fees at all?

    Taxation is a progressive means to fund primary and secondary education - why not higher education? The reality is that the distribution of cost through a fee system or a taxation system will be virtually identical if both are progressive, except the fee system is vastly more costly to run, deters talented young people from going into higher education and adds a massive £20 Bn + to our national debt for the Student Loan Company.

    If Clegg & Cable want a Fair" and "progressive" way to pay for higher eduction, what's wrong with the tax system which is designed to do precisely that? The argument that thoise who don't go into higher education shouldn't pay for it suggests that theyu don't benefit at all from it, which is not true - in every aspect of their lives engineers, doctors, experts and specialists contribute to their quality of life - why shouldn't they contribute to the cost of building the skills needed to provide the needs of a modern society?

    The other issue is the impact of trebling the fees on student demand for places and then on the universities as the providers.

    I give you the scenario that the ConDems don't want to talk about:

    1. There is a sharp fall off in applicants next year - 250-500,000 reduction in a single year

    2. between a quarter and a third of universities face insolvency in autumn 2012 as their income collapses and ask for a big bailout - but due to the next banking/euroland/credit crisis, there is no meny to do this.

    3. Suddenly existing students face their universities collapsing under them - the total affected is another 250,000.

    4. There are now hundreds of thousands of young people without education, training or jobs left high and dry - and the English Universities have been decimated - no, that's only one in ten - what is the word for three times that percentage being destroyed?

    What are the odds of this happening? I'd say quite worryingly high.

    There is of course another price to be paid for this - a steep rise in demand for vocational training, which is not fee-funded - plus a big jump in welfare payments.

    This is the path that mirrors the Thatcher government's hacking back of core public sector industries in the 1980s - we were told that privatising them would set them free - it certainly did - free to fail and go out of business, which is exactly what happened British Steel, British Coal, British Shipbuilders, British Leyland - the list goes on.

    British Universities are a strategic sector in our economy that not only gives us competitive advantages, they are also major export earners and very significant in forming international links that drive our trade and foreign policy interests.

    A repeat of the failures of libertarian policies of the 1980s is about to be repeated - and it's going to cost us dear in the long term.

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 42.

    38. Forlornehope

    'It looks rather as if anyone who is actually responsible for doing something realises that it has to be fees; anyone who isn't responsible and doesn't actually have to deliver would like to have a graduate tax'


    Succinct and accurate.

    All this shouting from the sidelines nonsense is unbecoming of a proper opposition.

    I don't normally take many soundbites away from PMQs, but Cameron's reference to Ed Miliband as a student politician was spot on.

  • Comment number 43.

    University students are adults. Most university degrees only run for 30-40 weeks of the year. The obvious solution is for students to find work during their holidays, and ideally part-time during term time too. This would go a long way towards paying their fees.

  • Comment number 44.

    This policy is a 40% cut in university funding, 70% cut to teaching funding.

    Nothing else has been cut to that extent.

    12%, 25% etc cuts from other departments. Hand outs to other countries: no cuts. Hand outs to bankers in other countries: no stated limit.

    Read the posts by tories on here. In their psychopathic philosophy education is a waste of time, waste of money, why should they pay for other peoples education, I left school at 16 with a CSE in woodwork and it never hurt me, all of them are studying meja studies etc etc

    Lets be clear. This is nothing to do with any alleged lack of cash. This is ideologically driven.

  • Comment number 45.

    sagamix 39

    'but we shouldn't base policy on assuming the worst in our young people, we should base it on expecting the best.'

    Dangerous idea that Saga. Might lead you to think people were able to spend their own money more wisely than the state.

  • Comment number 46.

    Nice analysis Nick.

    The party that opposed fees in the first place and came to government introduced them and now this situation is rather similar but we have the Labour party who introduced the fees system trying to slate the government for continuing the path forward.

    Ah well, all I can say is that this is an opportunity for the country. Our education system has some issues and for the past decade all we've heard is University, University, University because only a degree will give you a future. This has led to a spike in demand that was never really necessary leading to an ever increasing number of degrees that seem rather pointless. Having inflated demand and forcing supply to keep up, we suddenly take away all the funding away to be able to supply to the level of demand that has continued to grow.

    What about apprenticeships and vocational qualifications that shouldn't be taking place at university?

    There are simply too many unnecessary courses at university these days, they should be abolished and universities should be what they were always supposed to be and not just a place to gain a piece of paper.

    Our governments have misled us and now all students can see is university, everyone wants to go even though it may not be the suitable place for them to be studying and learning, depending on the qualification.

    Now is a good time to have the proper discussion over a university's role in our society and laying out other more suitable alternatives for courses and qualifications that aren't suitable for a university.

    I also think there should be a side issue here because I do believe that it is unfair to charge these fees, having been through the system myself. What I'd like to see is the government taking a proactive approach in integrating businesses in to the system so that there are more options such as a company paying for all your university costs and then giving you employment when you finish. This is surely a win-win for business, they constantly moan about the standards of education and always make little effort to offer training or support for those that want to train and develop, well this is their chance to get involved, to invest in future guaranteed employees, to guide their learning and training so that when finishing their university course they're all set to head in to the work place. I think more schemes like this should be available.

    However, these days, companies seem to be more short sighted on this type of route on investing in people and training them. Most companies seem to demand qualified people expecting them to have gotten the appropriate qualifications themselves but if the company wanted someone with that qualification, will it really destroy the finances of the business to simply offer training or funding towards training and development schemes.

    I'm a believer that if you're prepared to give like this to staff then staff will return that sentiment.

    I worked hard to get my qualification and yet, here I am stuck in a job I hate with low pay and I have absolutely no loyalty towards the organisation. The way I get treated, I have low morale and more often than not I can't be bothered with anything and all because the work environment and management don't seem to care about anything or anyone but themselves. As long as they're ok they don't seem at all concerned about others and their aspirations.

    What sort of attitude is that, if a company offered help in attaining aspirations surely it would be both beneficial for the individuals and the companies.

    Or am I simply a dreamer who believes that businesses investing in people is a good thing for everyone because businesses need good people to work for them and people want to work for good businesses that offer a good job.

    After all, the core of all businesses are people and without them the businesses would suffer.

    Time to get on with working on that CV so that I can get out of this dump and find a decent company that will help relaise my aspirations instead of pushing me down all the time.

  • Comment number 47.

    40. RichardBunning

    'in every aspect of their lives engineers, doctors, experts and specialists contribute to their quality of life'


    True, and you won't find me calling for funding for such people to be cut.

    However, please explain to me the benefits which a Media Studies graduate from Nottingham Trent or an English graduate from Wolverhampton bring to the table. Then please go on to justify a position whereby plumbers and builders who work hard, are very skilled in their own right but never attended university should fund these types of graduate.

    It's all too easy to demean this debate by referring to graduates as universally intelligent, employable and skilled. The truth is that many are not and that, even of the economy were buoyant, firms would not be clamouring for their services.

  • Comment number 48.

    34. At 12:47pm on 08 Dec 2010, mightychewster

    What we need to do is start challenging the british disease where someone coming out of education is looked down on by old timers with years of experience and no education.

    I have no doubt that in the great majority of jobs a person with no education and ten years of experience will out perform a recent graduate with zero experience. Ludicrous argument.

    The real test is old buffer with no degree and ten years experience tested against the graduate after ten years in work. When ever I see this, the bright young thing with education AND experience is the candidate of choice.

    In other countries they understand this fine well. Countries like Germany value education to the level of 'DOCTOR Mueler' being in charge of the team that develops the stability control for your VW. Not just a degree but a higer degree. Not despised and looked down on like he would be here, but highly valued.

    The university I work at is packed with young people from countries like China who also understand this. They are doing not only their degrees, but also their PhDs. In a few years the disunited kingdom will still be unable to compete with them on cost, and will also be unable to compete with them in the knowledge based economy.

  • Comment number 49.

    We are missing crucial information about what happens about repayment:

    Say new students take out huge loans, yes they only need to pay them once earning £21k+, yes the interest will be lower etc etc... what happens if the graduate works in a low paid job (e.g. charity sector) and by the time they retire they haven't paid off their loan? What if they die before paying it off? What happens to that loan - does it get passed to next of kin, paid through retirement, is your pension docked? before students consider £40k+ loans surely we need this information? Nick can you shed light on this?!?

    I for one am a graduate (and PhD graduate) who would not have gone to university under these proposals as I am from a low waged family who's Local Education Authority paid my fees, although we weren't in the 'free school meal' bracket either. This is where the 'squeezed middle' will sit, in the working not middle class.

  • Comment number 50.

    Hastings @22
    Excellent post. We are giving far too many young people a false view of the world and an education without value. I do believe in education for all, but would qualify that as suitable for all. All our young people should go into the world with whatever helps them best. For many, that is not university.

    As for who should pay for it, the major burden is for the tax payer. If our education system is any good, the tax payer is the beneficiary.

  • Comment number 51.

    Nick, I have criticised your posts on more than one occasion for lacking evidence and for verging on sensationalism, however this is a great post. Putting so clearly the web of u-turns on false promises by all three of the main parties, and supporting them with references, and doing it concisely, is a perfect way of realising the larger issue.

    The real issue for me is about democratic process, representation, and accountability. Whether the proposal on tuition fees is right or wrong (or a fudge inbetween)the fact that this decisions is being made by representatives of the general public, who voted for them and granted them the authority to make decisions on their behalf, who placed that faith on the pledge of promises, and who now stand utterly emasculated of their political representation through broken promises and pledges, is a tragedy. That they will stand free from accountability for their misrepresentation for another 4 years, until the one day that we get to voice our displeasure, is another tragedy. That we will elect another party/coalition, who will repeat the same process, is the ultimate tragedy of our apparent democracy.

    Whether it's Iraq, Afghanistan, bank bail outs, or tuition fees, and despite protests in record numbers, can this process be described as democratic?

  • Comment number 52.

    #34 mightychewster

    I used to be a recording engineer, a position which, traditionally, meant you started at 16 as a runner (except at the bbc, thought their sound engineers were no better than anyone else's).

    Over the years the job became easier in some respects as the equipment, ever more computerised, was no longer user serviceable - when I started, if a tape machine went wrong, it was as likely to be me who got out a large hammer to fix it.

    However, in reality, working in a studio has always been 10% technical and the rest creativity and good PR.

    Before I retired we saw application for runners being taken over by graduates having done a degree in sound engineering (though I could never work out what they were taught that took 3 years!)

    One graduate, having been given the job, turned up at the studio and met me in the canteen. After some pleasantries he asked to be shown to his studio. I looked at him startled and pointed out that he was already in it. By 4 o'clock he had resigned.

    Most were not so arrogant, but we very soon discovered that we had to teach these graduates exactly the same way as we had had to teach the 16 year old school leavers - their degrees were truly a waste of time.

    What is more, being 5 years older, they were not as keen and hungry as the 16 year olds and they often did not stay as long in the job, which was disconcerting for the clients who likes to build up long term relationships.

    Interestingly enough, talking to an old friend of mine who still runs a studio complex, they have started looking at school leavers again. They think they are missing out on some truly creative people who for a mix of reasons did not get the passes needed for University.

  • Comment number 53.

    I think the coalition are allowed to change their minds on their original manifesto (or previous) plans; after they got into power they saw the true state of the books and not the cooked books that Gordon Brown had been showing people.

    At that stage, when they saw that we had an accumulated deficit of somewhere between £1trillion and £5trillion (depending on which figures you believe), a structural deficit of about £150billion per year, and debt interest payments that cost more than most departments' entire budgets, they had to throw all their previous plans in the bin and just do what makes the most sense.

    I don't blame the coalition for changing their minds; they had no choice.

    I do, however, blame Labour for creating the economic mess that we're in (a structural deficit of about £50billion per year and an accumulated debt of around £500billion at the end of one of the longest periods of growth we've ever had and before the crisis/recession started; that really takes some doing). How you can have such a massive structural deficit and accumulated debt after so many years of continued growth and before the downturn started is a lesson to us all that labour should never form a government again.

    "No more boom and bust" - hmm, yes, let's just pretend that the laws of physics/maths don't apply to a country that's under a labour government, and that you can increase government spending exponentially forever without any risk or bad effects, right Gordon?

  • Comment number 54.

    47. At 1:18pm on 08 Dec 2010, One_Lars_Melvang
    However, please explain to me the benefits which a Media Studies graduate from Nottingham Trent or an English graduate from Wolverhampton

    Reality is that if you look a the prospectus of the universities that used to be polytechnics ('post 92 universities') you find, surprise surprise, they are the ones with predominantly vocational degrees. Courses like philosophy, history, politics etc are more likely to be at the traditional university.

    Example: we have 'supply chain management,' 'business and marketing' and half a dozen types of engineering. We train paramedics, nurses and physios. However we have no history, politics, philosophy, geography etc etc The nearest 'Russell group' (posh) university has all of those.

    (We don't do 'meja studies' but you should be careful about that one too. They have a better rate of employment than many of the courses you seem to approve of)

  • Comment number 55.

    A very good and well researched article there, Nick - it'll need a spin of Mandelsonian proportions to get the government out of that.

  • Comment number 56.

    Sorry I forgot - also the opposition.

  • Comment number 57.

    On such a major policy issue it is very telling how easily the LibDems allow a promise to be turned into a lie.

    Besides that, it is telling to contrast the position of young people in England (particularly) with their peers in Scotland, Wales and the rest of Europe. What is it about us that we allow the richest 1% of the country to prioritise conserving their wealth while the rest of us go hang?

    One problem is that route to power is monopolised by that top layer and blocked to any one who will truly represent the people. Why else has there been so little distinction between the tories and 'labour' since 1997 ? Witness yesterday's revelation that not one black person (and likewise very few working class people) has been admitted to Oxford or Cambridge in the past five years. Eton gets 9 visits to encourage entry. Scandalous!

    From this suppression of democracy, exacebated by the divide-and-rule tactics employed by this government whereever expedient to carry forward their agenda, a discontent gathers, from which the consequences could be very unpredictable and probably bad for most of us.

  • Comment number 58.

    #48 jon

    You misread what I said. I am pointing out the same thing you are, employers are wanting qualified candidates with 10 years experience - which puts any grad in a catch 22 situation, they can't get the initial job because of a lack of experience - which is wrong

    My experience is that they will lose out (initially) to the candidate with the greater experience. I work with quite a few guys with lots of qualifications and 10 years in the game by the way - and i'm no old timer! I'd challenge any one of them, have done in the past and will do so again in the future. I respect all of them for their merits as they do me - but I work in a highly specialised area so my case is a bit different

    You can't do a course in what I do, there are no higher education possibilities in my particular area - it has to be taught on the job. Yes I agree a good degree in 'comms is a great start and will provide the basic knowledge and building blocks

    What I want to see is a mixture of the two ie companies hiring people with the direct intent of investing in their training and work experience, and also offering more graduate positions that will offer the chance to gain real world experience. What I don't want to see is the attitude that you have to have a degree to get a job, whether it be a so called 'worthless' degree or not

    It's about balance, something we haven't gotten right yet unfortunately

  • Comment number 59.

    A bit off topic ...

    There has been a lot of debate about why some areas are failing to get students into Oxbridge or even much of the Russell Group, even though they are getting good A grades.

    What is forgotten is that in the case of Oxford and Cambridge, if you haven't got 5 GCSE at A or A* (preferably the latter) then your school wont even put you forward - what ever your A-Level predictions.

    This completely mad filtering system basically alienates all those students who are either late bloomers or who, for local cultural reasons or the society within the school, don't get serious until they get to sixth form.

  • Comment number 60.

    52. At 1:43pm on 08 Dec 2010, Hastings

    Oops! - British disease again (#48)

    Shame you boys can't see the paradox. If we employed him at 16 he would have been brilliant, but if we wait until after the degree he is now apparently stupid.

    Is it more to do with you guys not having a degree and feeling a bit threatened?

    Some people respond to that unpleasant feeling by adding to their work based experience and ALSO getting an education. Personal opinion: those older people with experience and education are even better than the recent graduate with a few years experience. They usually work harder at university as well.

  • Comment number 61.

    Turbulent_Times @51

    I think you need to consider what you have written a little more carefully. To point out a few places where this is needed:

    (1) Changing your mind does not imply (as a 1 to 1 relationship) a false promise / misrepresentation
    (2) The conservativ statement references is 5, thats FIVE, years old
    (3) The labour statement does not say what Nick says it does ('difficult to do' as against 'won't work' respectively)
    (4) Democratic implies (if not actually means?), collective responsibility. It is not possible to have collective reponsibility without compromise, and it is not possible to have compromise without some decisions/opinions/etc changing over time.

    There's much more but who really cares? As long as we can all blow of steam here and convince ourselves of our superiority. Funny that no-one blogging here is running the country - odd even.

  • Comment number 62.

    "What about the policy that would say you can't keep on living rent free in Mother's grand inherited pile in Hampstead?" - fubar @ 35

    Well I don't know about that. Not relevant in any case.

    Look, the proposition - a compelling one - is that we need free at PoD further education & training (academic and vocational/practical) for all those who are willing and able; thus improving the skills and aptitudes of our population and de-coupling (as far as the system goes) life chances from parental means.

    And the only problem you seem to have with this is that it’s me saying it.

    Bit like me telling you that you’re not qualified to opine on UK politics, re this or any other issue, because you’ve moved to Belgium. That would be ridiculous (wouldn’t it?), which is why I don’t tell you it. Not for the first time, you could take a leaf from a certain clear-thinking progressive.

  • Comment number 63.


    Two students - both at colleges - one uses spanners, one uses computers - why should one pay £9k pa and the other nothing?

    Answer- because one is doing an academic course subject, whilst the other is doing a vocational subject - and as of a couple of years' ago, it's now required for all plumbers, electricians etc to be qualified.

    To claim that it is unfair to the plumber to contribute through the tax system to fund the academic course whilst the academic student should pay for the whole of their course cost but the vocational plumbing student doesn't pay a bean seems to me to be grossly unfair.

    Surely both should pay - but according to their level of income - there is no need for a separate fee system - income tax works fine as it is.

    You may wonder whether going a media studies or english degree is worthwhile - on that basis what about classics @ Cambridge or archaeology at Oxford? Maybe we should cull whole subjects as not of any practical use on principle?

    Education is not only about learning the specific things you need for a specific job - it's also about widening knowledge and developing key skills through study.

    Rubbishing whole subjects as valueless is a dangerous road to tread...

    You are falling into the tabloid brickbat throwing, pig ignorant trap of rubbishing education, rubbishing the young and being prejudiced about the value of higher education.

    We need to invest to accumulate - that's why we need a healthy, vibrant and broad higher and vocational education provision.

  • Comment number 64.

    I really am wondering what all the fuss is about. Anyone in the UK who wants to train to be an airline pilot has only two options. Sponsorship where an airline underwrites the cost and the individual pays most of it back, or an individual pays for the whole amount, somewhere in the region of £90,000. Needless to say he has no guarantee of a job and his starting salary is peanuts if he works for a low cost airline.

    There is far too much "entitlement" in the UK and far to little get of your butt and do something.

    Those who are protesting and find themselves in court should like to consider that their chances of getting a decent job in the future (unless the go into politics) are severely compromised.

  • Comment number 65.

    @ jon

    I don't feel threatened by not having a degree mate - why would I ?

    Nobody is saying that: "If we employed him at 16 he would have been brilliant, but if we wait until after the degree he is now apparently stupid."

    It is merely anecdotal, I have worked with a small number of people who fit into the 'I've got a degree therefore i'm better than you' box but thankfully this is a very small number.

    There is somewhat of an attitude with some (small numbers imho) graduates who come wo work and just expect to be given a cushy/easier role because they got 'that' degree. I would think in some areas this may happen - I think sometimes the move from higher education into the workplace is a bit of a culture shock

    Could you tell me if anything is taught in university about entering the work markets? I think it would be useful, btw it seems like your university teaches some good courses - do you try to tailor them to the actualities of the subject or mainly focus on the educational aspect? It seems (from the outside) that some courses are purely academical and not really tailored towards a career path - maybe this should change a little

  • Comment number 66.

    "37. At 12:49pm on 08 Dec 2010, sagamix wrote:
    andy @ 23

    No, I don't mean that. Great for parents to help out their children in whatever way they can and see fit.

    All fine.

    But the system shouldn't work this in as a virtual pre-requisite. The system should promote equality and the de-coupling of life chances from parental wealth."


    So you're happy for parents to help their children in any way they see fit as long as it doesn't enhance the child's life chances?

    Glad we've cleared that one up.

  • Comment number 67.

    "Dangerous idea that, Saga. Might lead you to think people were able to spend their own money more wisely than the state." - jobs @ 45

    In fact, this speaks well to my point.

    Left to their own devices people would spend money on their own children's education, but not on others. The best education would thus go to the better off.

    Unacceptable (to me and my ilk).

    We therefore need a mechanism to spread the money around more widely and wisely; to ensure that everyone gets a decent crack of the whip viz a vis schooling and further education & training.

    And this is where taxation comes in. There's a job - a very important one - to be done and tax gets its head down and does it.

  • Comment number 68.

    uuummm - guys do you really think the U turns on fees and knife crime can be justified on the basis that it was only after they were elected that they realised the extent of the deficit?

    That is just silly. At the time of the election everyone knew there was a massive deficit that would need to be addressed. The simple fact is that both Cameron and Clegg made promises during the election campaign that they knew they would be unable to keep. That is what politicians do (Blair and Brown were masters of it).

    That is why the National Union of Students asked LibDem candidates to sign personal pledges and took photos of them with their pledges. It was a nice idea but even that does not seem to have worked.

    And poor Nick Clegg wonders why he has difficulty communicating his message on fees. People are not going to believe anything he says ever again. It took Brown and Blair a number of years to reach that level of public odium. Clegg and the LibDems have done it in 8 months. I am just very surprised that a professional political party did not see all this coming a mile off.

  • Comment number 69.

    54. At 1:46pm on 08 Dec 2010, jon112dk wrote:
    We are now in the UK suffering from the delusion that everyone needs a degree of some sorts to be any good. The problem is that we have in achieving such a high entrance rate to our universities done two things;

    1. We have devalued our university education and in many cases dumbed the courses down to such a degree that they are almost pointless.

    2. We are also failing those who should not be going to university but rather should be taking vocational courses.

    Lets take nursing as an example. Nurses do not need a degree, the old system was working and working very well. The degree was only brought in to pacify those within the profession who had a chip on their shoulder about being recognised as so called "professionals". Now I am not saying that those who aspire to further education should not be allowed to carry on but most would not. It is the same as them having to get "credits" to stay on the register, most nurses do not actually take courses that would benefit them they take what, they can afford or what are the easiest. Hence not actually benefiting themselves or the health service just making more work and money for someone along the way. Better if they put on refresher courses to inform and update the nurses on developments and new techniques but that would not fit the profile of the "Professional" nurse as laid down by the RGN.

    The same story can be said for many professions, degree or bust.......

    and what have we created,a generation who have been promised the world if only they get a degree only to find that there aren't even enough McDonald's places for them.

  • Comment number 70.

    What will we see in the 20 years time as a result of tuition fees? Probably the professions back in the hands of the rich and privileged. It's depressing because not so long ago a bright student from a poor background could have-in theory, if not in practice-have attended an Oxford or Cambridge college (or wherever excellent A-Level results may have taken them). Now we have added in the factor of how rich mummy and daddy are as a determinant of university choice rather than academic talent which I know historically was always the case but during the post war period a lot was done to change that. Hark! the sound of the ladder being pulled firmly up.

  • Comment number 71.

    Ok - last one from me for today.

    The Coalition says its fees policy is fair.

    But how can it be fair in the one country (the United Kingdom) for (as I understand it) no fees to apply in Scotland or to Welsh students? Does it really mean your liability for fees depends on where you were born in the United Kingdom? And how is that actually going to work in practice?

    Seems bonkers to me but I am sure some of your smart people will be able to explain it.

  • Comment number 72.

    No wonder the students aren't getting it.

    The longer this goes on the more complicated it gets whereby in the end none of us are getting it.

    Some simple mathematics is required to bring back some commonsense.

    How much is it costing the taxpayer to fund universities at the present time?

    If fees had been index linked at 5% per annum from 2002 to cover the students proportion of inflationary increases in university costs what would they be in 2013?

    A nice little test in compound interest for those who still know how to do it.

    How many university places are there for home grown students?

    How many places are there for EU students and how much do they pay?

    How many places are available for those outside the EU and how much do they pay?

    Just a simple excercise but the answers would provide us with far more food for thought than all the weird and wonderful rhetoric we are having to suffer at the moment.

    When we see these answers I'm sure the taxpayer will ask themselves why they should be funding university education at all.

  • Comment number 73.

    Education is not only about learning the specific things you need for a specific job - it's also about widening knowledge and developing key skills through study.

    Rubbishing whole subjects as valueless is a dangerous road to tread...
    Indeed. My own undergraduate and masters degrees are in an arts subject, which are very poorly regarded on the whole, and what is more it does not tie into a particular vocation except for a lucky few, but I would regard it as one of the most important subjects of all for a society nevertheless, biased as I am I admit.

    I'm against arbitrary targets to get people into university when their skills, whatever their intelligence (I know numerous people far brighter than I for whom academic study is and would not be best), may be better suited to other paths, which should also be funded. I would love it to be free, or almost free, and happy to pay more in taxes to support both those approaches because of the long term benefits to this country, but it is not an option unfortunately. At present I find a graduate tax more galling than a vast increase in fees, although more details need to emerge on the former, but no solution is without pain it seems, which isno doubt why all three parties are going through the complicated moves seen in the article.
    (1) Changing your mind does not imply (as a 1 to 1 relationship) a false promise / misrepresentation
    (4) Democratic implies (if not actually means?), collective responsibility. It is not possible to have collective reponsibility without compromise, and it is not possible to have compromise without some decisions/opinions/etc changing over time.
    Thank you for these points. Changing of mind can be annoying and even worthy of punishment at the ballot box, but too often all sides give into hyperbole on this.

  • Comment number 74.

    @Richard Bunning:

    "As the whole of society benefits from the skills of our people that come from the state education system, why should it be right to pay for this out of general and local taxation up to the age of 18 in England, whilst the student should bear nearly the full cost after that, but only in England, not in N.Ireland, Wales or Scotland? Why are we bothering with fees at all?"

    "Taxation is a progressive means to fund primary and secondary education - why not higher education? The reality is that the distribution of cost through a fee system or a taxation system will be virtually identical if both are progressive, except the fee system is vastly more costly to run, deters talented young people from going into higher education and adds a massive £20 Bn + to our national debt for the Student Loan Company."

    You could argue that, true enough. However, it begs the question that if we are all benefiting from their tertiary education, why are we importing so many physicians, surgeons, nurses, etc into the NHS, why are we still importing heaven knows how many engineers, Tier 1 visa holders, etc? Its all well and good going to Uni and I dont have a grudge against anyone who does it. But, they have to ask themselves some very serious questions before they go as to what exactly they are going to do when they graduate. And, I dont think all of them do.

  • Comment number 75.

    Everybody has to pay for the sins of the bankers...except the bankers. This is about who has political influence not what is the best policy. The weakness of governments is the real problem and their unwillingness to be advocates for the people. Banks have moved on from financial collusion and fraudulent schemes to governmental extortion. Of course the children of bankers have no problem with increased fees. The banks have been successful in robbing the past, the present and the future. They should be proud. If the universities will eliminate Ethics courses the banks may throw in some scholarship money.

  • Comment number 76.

    "de-coupling (as far as the system goes) life chances from parental means."

    What on earth does that mean anyway? You've picked one aspect of 'life', (that being further education), and decided that the 'system' shouldn't put children with wealthy parents in a better position. But you're perfectly happy with a system that allows that same parent to buy their child a house. Who's to say that being bought a house isn't a better life advanatge than a university education (which might not even lead to a job)? Or being funded to set up the child in their own business. maybe THAT'S better than a uni education. For some it would be.

    So you're happy with a system that allows parents to give their child ANY advantage except an advantage relating to tertiary education?

    Your view is wholly illogical and based on your own narrow view of the world.

  • Comment number 77.


    Trod on one of your forked tails there, did I mate?

    Its a bit pointless doing that though, however laudable, as I've said above, if you've got an open door policy to let every man and his dog in. Such as the one you advocate.

    Unless you deliberately want to do that to make sure todays graduates dont turn into tomorrows fat cats. Sounds a bit Soviet, where a Cab driver could have earned as much, if not more than a scientist... and spare me the decoupling stuff mate... the blood of the bourgeoisie is what feeds the magic money tree in No11 Downing St, right??

  • Comment number 78.

    64 skynine

    There is far too much "entitlement" in the UK and far to little get of your butt and do something.


    Spot on!

  • Comment number 79.

    There seems to be an implicit, or in some cases explicit, assumption here that the poor / poorest parts of society will lose access to education because fees are being charged at some point in the future, and these sort of people are debt shy whilst the wealthy can afford it. Whilst the latter point may be true, up to a point, I don't think there are any facts that support the former (that the poor would be put off by the thought of fees).

  • Comment number 80.

    1/ Tripled University Fees are proposed for children who now too young to vote
    Or to have much say in British politics, apart from protesting on roads which we have seen since your Government came with this proposal.
    2/ University Fees are not fair for women, as they earn on average 23 % less than men,
    If they have maternity leave, student loan debt could double due to high interest rates
    ( 4.4% now) , they will have more difficulty in repaying Student loans .
    3/ , Did Government get check basic math's , before introducing this proposal....Students studying for average income vocation will never be able to repay loan, For example , If tuition fees are increased to £9000 per year, Students on a four year course could end up with £60K debt ( for tuition fees and the cost of living) . If they repay loan with 9% on their earnings above £21,000 they will have to earn more than £50K per. year , just to keep paying for interests only, now 4.4% . Therefore, somebody on an average Salary , Male £29,970 and Female £23,267 would never be able to repay student loan. University education would be too expensive for most of them , Education will be privilege of few.
    4t/ . We are not little islands , We are all benefiting from Higher Education one way or another (not only the ones who attended it) ...Our children will need educated Teachers , Hospital patients need nurses, therapists... , we all need highly skilled moderately paid workforce , if we were go ahead with this proposal job market change quite significantly . Educated Workforce will be more expensive and not accessible for most of us. There must be a better way .

  • Comment number 81.

    "67. At 2:28pm on 08 Dec 2010, sagamix wrote:
    "Dangerous idea that, Saga. Might lead you to think people were able to spend their own money more wisely than the state." - jobs @ 45

    In fact, this speaks well to my point.

    Left to their own devices people would spend money on their own children's education, but not on others. The best education would thus go to the better off.

    Unacceptable (to me and my ilk)."

    Which only goes to show how illogical your argument is. Your position is that you are happy for parents to spend money on ANYTHING to benefit their children other than education. Why education?

    Oh and is 'ilk' the new word for your reflection in the mirror cause there ain't no-one else singing from your songsheet.

  • Comment number 82.

    28. At 12:31pm on 08 Dec 2010, Radiowonk wrote:
    Hastings @ 22: Very well argued, and very possibly entirely correct. Expect incoming fire from the "all ought to be able to go to university at someone else's expense" lobby.


    You can also argue that cutting personal taxes which is cited as a good thing to stimulate investment and economic growth is directly related to people being free to spend their money as they wish on goods and services thus stimulatign a virtuous circle.

    Similarly if you accept the argument that well educated students will earn more money therefore have better spending power and therefore achieve the same effect plus the additional effect of encouraging investment from companies requiring higher skill levels then investing in education is a benefit for the country again a virtuous circle.

    By increasing what they owe and therefore what has to be taken out of their increased salaries (as a result of being educated) means they cannot then spend it on other things which would grow the economy so their spending power is reduced and therefore both the above cannot happen. It is therefore not a virtuous circle.

    Increasing the debt of student whilst a practical solution to current monetary concerns simply is ideological - get what you pay for rather than investing.

    We have our priorities wrong on this one - education should be top priority for the nation at all levels. After all if our government thinks personal debt is the solution to everything (even with all the caveats in terms) then the crisis and current mess we are in seems to have taught them nothing.

  • Comment number 83.


    Its down to the devolved parties buying nationalist votes and knowing that deep down not only will the spineless English always stump up for it, but they will also be the most zealous in shafting their own in order to sustain it.

    Simple enough?

  • Comment number 84.


    That kind of rhetoric is all very flowery, but what was - and what is, for that matter - your response a couple of years ago to those who may have said "let the likes of HBOS, RBS and Northern Rock collapse"?

    Cant have it both ways.

  • Comment number 85.

    andy @ 66 and 76

    You seem to be struggling to find a non-existent hole in my bucket.


    Parents can use their financial muscle to help their children in life. That's natural, inevitable, desirable even.


    The education system should be designed in such a way as to render the deployment of private parental money a nice-to-have, rather than a virtual essential.

    Making further education & training increasingly expensive is a move in the wrong direction - it makes parental wealth more, not less, important to life chances.

    You can disagree but you can't dispute.

  • Comment number 86.

    Anyway, I've hit on a perfect solution which even Saga will be happy with.

    Parent buys a child a house. Saga has said he's OK with that.

    Child sells house to fund his/her university education. Child is using own funds, not relying on wealthy parents. Saga's OK with that too.

    Everyone's happy.

  • Comment number 87.

    65. At 2:22pm on 08 Dec 2010, mightychewster

    I would not want to tar everyone with the same brush - I refer to a 'british disease' regarding education as a concept not an attack on any individual.

    To my knowledge, all of the vocational courses include at least work placement. Quite a few are 50:50 work:university. Some are actually people already in that work attending day release etc.

    Yes, preparation for employment is now near mandatory. I was doing mock interviews with year 3 students last week.

  • Comment number 88.

    85 - You don't have a bucket, never mind one with a hole in it. The UK cannot afford a 'free for all' tertiary edication system. Every party agrees on that. Every ONE agrees on that. Except, it would seem, you.

    You want to argue in LaLa land, up to you. Any time you want to argue in the real world, happy to debate.

  • Comment number 89.

    hastings @ 22

    "To be able to fund ten times as many people as were funded in the 1960s is out of the question"

    Our GDP is 50 times higher than it was back then. Course, this doesn't mean we're x50 richer in real terms, but still ... your "out of the question" is rather too definitive.

    Times change, thank goodness, and things progress.

  • Comment number 90.

    Why do Oxford, Cambridge and the rest of the Russell Group take applicants mainly from rich families and public (i.e. private) schools?

    The answer is pretty simple. Our A-level exam system has been so devalued that there are far more straight A applicants than Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial et al can take. So how do they select?

    They resort to making decisions from interviews with some bias to state school applicants. Who does best in an interview? The candidate who has confidence, has seen a bit of the world, presents himself well, etc.: the child of a well off family who went to public school.

    In my opinion, having read elsewhere of the ineffectiveness of judging candidates for anything by interviewing, it's a useless method. The universities would do better to enter all the grade As into a lottery. But, imagine the newspaper headlines: university places decided by lottery.

    Has it always been like this? No, 40 years ago, applicants from grammar schools got into Cambridge with an A and 2 Bs.

  • Comment number 91.

    85 - "The education system should be designed in such a way as to render the deployment of private parental money a nice-to-have, rather than a virtual essential."

    Again, why are you singling out the education system? You seem to be suggesting that tertiary education is an essential to a happy fufilled life. It isn't. It's a choice. A 'nice-to-have' in life but not essential to an individual.

    Once you've taken those blinkers off, you'll see that your stance makes no logical sense. If a tertiary education is a choice in the same way as owning a house, owning a car, setting up a business and so on then there's no reason to single it out.

    You want 'free to all' tertiary education? Supposing I say I want a 'free to all' house. Why shouldn't general taxation be used to give every body a free house? At the very least, if the cost of tertiary education is (say) £40k over three years (including living costs) why can't I say that an 18 year old who decides NOT to go to Uni should be given £40k from general taxation to start him off in life and make up for not having a degree? Why not? What's your argument against that, Saga?

  • Comment number 92.

    Thanks for reminding everyone that the first party to break an election manifesto pledge on tuition fees was New Labour under the leadership of the arch-hypocrite Mr Tony "education, education, education" Blair. The Lib Dem manifesto breach is mild in comparison to his huge betrayal.

    Like health care from cradle to grave, education from nursery school to university should be free at the point of need and paid for from general taxation.

  • Comment number 93.

    @61. At 1:56pm on 08 Dec 2010, Justforsighs

    First of all, please do go on – I care, especially when you ask someone to consider their thoughts further, are then patronising enough to highlight these points through breaking them down, but then get your points completely off the mark – it’s quite odd, even.

    “(1) Changing your mind does not imply (as a 1 to 1 relationship) a false promise / misrepresentation”

    Are you aware of the detail of this story re: the signed PLEDGE made by Lib Dem MPs on tuition fees? In what world is that not a promise, and subsequently a promise reneged, when you not only don’t fulfil it but do the complete opposite?

    As to misrepresentation – what would you call electing someone into power, based on a set of criteria/promises/pledges, for that individual(s) to scrap them in favour of the opposite course of action? They are by definition misrepresenting the interest of those who elected them.

    “(2) The conservative statement references is 5, that’s FIVE, years old”

    AND?! The current Prime Minister wrote that manifesto, and if anything it highlights the extreme lack of consistency on higher education, across all the parties.

    (3) The labour statement does not say what Nick says it does ('difficult to do' as against 'won't work' respectively)

    Did you actually read the full quote: "Well, I don't think [a graduate tax] could [work]. Frankly, there's a difference of view...I feel it's going to be very difficult to make a graduate tax a workable proposition." (Telegraph, 4 December 2010)
    Not ‘as against’ or indeed what ‘Nick says’ – it’s actually part of one and the same quote, and yes the quote is from Johnson. Maybe a point you need to consider further.

    “(4) Democratic implies (if not actually means?), collective responsibility. It is not possible to have collective reponsibility without compromise, and it is not possible to have compromise without some decisions/opinions/etc changing over time.”

    Democratic actually means ‘rule by the people’ which is my entire point.

    In order to have collective responsibility, we have to have collective ownership – we divest our collective ownership in favour of empowering elected individuals to represent our ownership/interest to govern. If those individuals no longer represent the interest of those that elect them, we no longer have any ownership, and that responsibility rests with the elected, not the electorate. That’s not a compromise, and it is not democratic. What you are suggesting is that we are all responsible for the actions of those we elect, and that therefore we must naturally compromise our principles out of a sense of responsibility. The only way we can redress that misplaced responsibility is in a general election, or through protest - the latter of which has not resulted in the desired outcome.

    Do you really think, as an example, that students would have voted for the Lib Dems if they knew that their signed pledge against tuition fees was subject to change post-election, in consideration of potential compromise?

    “There's much more but who really cares? As long as we can all blow of steam here and convince ourselves of our superiority. Funny that no-one blogging here is running the country - odd even.”

    According to your logic we are all responsible for the running of our country, so the opinions represented here as just as valid as those ‘running the country’.

    And out of curiosity, how does raising concerns, and debating government policy in a public domain, constitute a demonstration of superiority, assumed or otherwise?

    Do you count your own contributions in that list?

  • Comment number 94.

    andy @ 88

    Free at PoD - hence not linked to parental wealth - further education & training (academic, vocational, practical) for all those willing and able; increasing the skills, aptitudes and confidence of our young people prior to them setting out on their (long and getting longer) adult working lives.

    Fund out of general taxation in this, one of the richest nations on earth. A nation which right now spends less on this area than many many other countries in the developed world.

    Such - in andyville - is "lalaland".

    So give me the latter, any day of any week.

  • Comment number 95.

    Seems to be a false alternative being posed by many – degree or get stuck into the world of work? It’s not an either/or. The goal is that all those willing and able (which ought to be the majority) spend a period, post school, in further education and training in a subject/field suitable to them. This funded out of general taxation rather than by them directly (otherwise quality higher E&T will become the preserve of the monied).

  • Comment number 96.

    87 - "I was doing mock interviews with year 3 students last week."

    What were you advising them to do at interview? Glue themselves to the desk of the interviewer and denounce capitalism?

  • Comment number 97.

    #87 jon

    Nice to hear that, i'm glad there's a lot of emphasis placed on gaining workplace experience and preparing graduates for interviews etc. Having no experience of the system myself I have to ask! Thanks for the reply....

    FWIW I think education should be funded by and large by taxation, but students do need to cover some of the costs themselves - it's an important lesson required for later life, managing costs and so forth. I think the problem we have is that there is a huge hole in the finances that needs to be filled, and students are being asked to fill it

    I really think that we could bring down the costs of higher education by targeting vocational/educational courses at specific groups from an earlier age. Not everyone wants higher education but would like to do an apprenticeship (for instance)

    The major problem with all of this is our tax system - it's far too complex and certain taxes (ie road tax) do not get used for their original purpose. I believe we need to simplify the tax system and remove all other taxes (NI, employers NI, tax credits etc) and replace it with a basic PAYE tax, public services to be paid from this

    The problem with this is this would need to be around 40% of all earnings at the lowest point. This seems very high to the UK population with the lower rates being 23%(ish) but people don't take into account all the hidden ways they are taxed (NI etc) and not to mention the cost of administering the behemoth that we have now. If we simplified the system and had lower earners with a tax free allowance I really think we could get a lot more from our public services than we do now - without paying any more for them, how much could we save if the tax code was simple?

  • Comment number 98.

    "I'm afraid to tell you, there is no money left"

    Repeat ad infinitum until the labour party understand they left us with no money, have no policies and have no right to enter the debate until they apologise for the mess they left for the colaition to clear up.

    Graduate tax? You fight an election with the Browne report pending and then you propose something different? Clealry the labour party is aiming not to be taken as a serious political force any more. They are winning this particular game. Hands down.

    The ex education minister who introduced tuition fees writes an open letter opposing a graduate tax and then suddenly decides to support it? And this man wants to be chancellor?

    I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left... what an own goal from a defunct, divided, morally bankrupt party this was.

    It's a great time to be a tory...

  • Comment number 99.

    Nick Clegg emphasises that repayment is £7 per month. Assuming fees are £9000,it is going to take a very long time to repay. 107 years.
    This cant be correct? What am I missing

  • Comment number 100.

    Just found this site, which should reassure everyone.


Page 1 of 3

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.