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I am a Conservative, I have been a party member for three years and campaigned a lot during the General Election campaign. There is however one party policy I strongly disagree with: the cuts to university funding and the rise in tuition fees. I believe it hurts all but the richest in society and encourages the view that education is solely for future monetary gain.
Unfortunately in recent years the view in the Conservative Party has turned in favour of tuition fees and only six Conservative MPs voted against raising the cap to £9,000 per year.
I believe strongly in the Conservative tradition of meritocracy, that people should succeed based on their ability and not based on the amount of money they have. Both Margaret Thatcher and John Major came from humble backgrounds and eventually became Prime Minister, both of them benefited greatly from a free university education (as have almost every current MP). On principle I believe it is wrong to make people pay for their education as some people have better means to pay than others therefore meaning that access to education would be partially based on wealth.
The system proposed by the coalition will mean that universities will set tuition fees of between £6000 and £9000 per year. The argument behind this range is that it will create a market and people will assess the value of the education provided by universities and choose accordingly. In reality most students from poorer backgrounds will choose the cheapest universities due to fear of taking on an extra £9000 in debt. The grants system will remain fundamentally flawed as it is based on household income which is often not an accurate reflection of parents ability or willingness to fund their children’s education. A student from a large middle income family is a good example. If you are one of three or four children and your parents earn £40,000 you will receive no help from the state and probably very little from your parents meaning you could easily end up £40,000+ in debt. If the grants system also took family size and its assets into consideration then the argument that the whole system is fair would hold much more weight.
The credit culture caused the recession; its crazy that one of the governments solutions to get us out of the mess is for half of young people to borrow an extra £9,000-18,000 more than they would currently do. Its will considerably reduce their take home pay and act as another millstone around young peoples necks. How the average graduate is expected to pay £30,000 debts and save up for a deposit on a house is beyond me. The only saving grace of the system is that you don’t pay it back if you don’t earn a decent wage in the thirty years after you graduate. However most graduates will earn enough to pay it back
but pay decades worth of interest in addition to what they originally borrowed. Its a policy that doesn’t take into account the burdens faced by those in their 20s even when there are plenty of jobs.
The deficit needs to be tackled as we cannot remain in a situation were the government continues to borrow a quarter of what it spends. However this does not mean that cuts of 60% to government funding for higher education are necessary. Its an area which only absorbs just over 1% of overall government expenditure. The coalitions cuts to university funding save £4.2bn a year on a deficit of £155bn per year. Universities should not be spared cuts while other public services have to be cut, however the scale of the cuts should be significantly smaller. A four year freeze in funding would in real terms save about £1bn a year by the end of this parliament and could be implemented without significantly damaging the system or increasing student debt. While this would mean an extra £3bn of cuts spread between other departments were the damage would not be felt as strongly by people, compared with taking away the majority of university funding.
For all the faults in the new system, it is important to remember that the Conservatives said before the General Election that they may increase tuition fees and lost many student votes for doing so. Even though I totally disagree with the policy I admire my parties honesty, something I cannot say about our coalition partners. The choice of 28 Liberal Democrats to vote in favour of the rise appalled me, especially as 10 of the 28 MPs were backbenchers who had the right to abstain under the coalition agreement. Abstaining would have still broke their pledge but would have been much better than voting in favour of the rise. Unfortunately if more Liberal Democrat backbench MPs had voted against the rise it would have failed. This did not occur and will result in £18,000 more debt for many future students, as well as breaking many young peoples trust in politicians.