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Plans to charge between £6000 an £9000 per year in tuition fees were given added clout as it was announced that the Liberal Democrats had planned two months before the General Election to scrap their pledge.
An exclusive story run by The Guardian cited “secret party documents” which displayed plans to do away with the pledge to keep the tuition fee cap as it is. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, whose party has come under increasing criticism of their apparent compromise a key election campaign promise, was increasingly vocal against fee rises before the elections.
Clegg had previously defended the reform saying, “Our reforms will give our universities financial stability and the resources to provide a world-class education in an increasingly global market. Graduates will pay less each month than they do now. Part-time students will no longer be faced with unfair, upfront fees. And the poorest graduates will pay considerably less than they do today”.
Universities Minister David Willets described the increase in fees as a “progressive” reform, by permitting universities to change the upper tier to £9,000 if universities ensure greater access for poorer students. He added that the higher cap on fees would “put universities’ finance on a sustainable footing with extra freedoms and less bureaucracy” and allow “greater choice for students with a stronger focus on high quality teaching.”
The National Union of Students called the announcement “an outrage”, whilst LUSU President Robbie Pickles said: “Clearly students will be deeply disturbed by the news that fees could triple to as high as £9000 per year. There can be no doubt that this hike, coupled with interest rates of up to 10%, will hit the poorest hardest and put them off Higher Education.”
In addition to the fee increase, the government announced market rate interest rates on student loans will be increased in order to make repayments more expensive for higher-paid graduates. Repayments will be structured so that higher-earning graduates are paying higher levels of interest rates, up to 3% above inflation. Only those who earn below £21,000 will remain paying an effective zero rate of interest.
The announcement of the raised tuition fee plan comes between the government commissioned Higher Education Review compiled by Lord Browne published last month and the student protest organised for Wednesday week five in London. The higher fees will be expected to combat a lack of revenue following the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Many students are angry at the Liberal Democrats, who were swayed into voting for the party following their pledge against tuition fee rises, which had an effect on marginal seats in university areas, such as Lancaster & Fleetwood. NUS President Aaron Porter criticised the Liberal Democrats for ditching their election pledge to vote against any rise in fees. He said that Liberal Democrat MPs should be “ashamed of themselves.”
A third year student at Lancaster voted Liberal Democrat in the 2010 General Election, but said she regrets her choice; “The Lib Dems have repeatedly broken explicit promises since they entered the coalition government. Nick Clegg has proven himself to be more interested in power than principles. They have forever lost my support.”
History & Politics student Ben Smith attended Wednesday’s student protest in London: “The problem does not just lie with tuition fees being raised, but that thousands of votes have been wrongly obtained by MPs for the purpose of being elected to Parliament in exchange for what turned out t be, a worthless pledge.”
Ministers intend to bring in the new system in time for it to take effect from September 2012. Students who have begun their courses before 2012 will not be affected in their later years of study. MPs are expected to vote on the fee increases before Christmas.