Tuition fees: we are not all in this together

A guest post by Richard Robinson

With the Coalition Government confirming this week that student tuition fees could rise to £9,000 per annum Richard Robinson argues this demonstrates quite clearly we are not all in this together.

I find it difficult to fathom the attitude of the Tory and Liberal coalition government most weeks.

Whilst the New Statesman’s Senior Political Editor Medi Hasan brilliantly exposed the claim of the coalition government that we are all in this together last month, this week I believed we reached a new low.  Witness the attitude of the Tory and Liberal coalition government towards young people and students in particular.  The stumbling blocks now being put in the way of young people to improve their lives through entering Higher Education are massive.

It was announced this week that from 2012 universities in England will be able to charge tuition fees of up to £9000 per year, making it evidently clear then that there is a wholesale change and shift of emphasis.  The cost of the courses is to be borne by students, rather than the state.

Somehow the Universities Minister David Willetts MP thinks this is a progressive reform.  I profoundly disagree.  In fact I could not agree more with Gareth Thomas MP for Harrow West who argued “this is a tragedy for a whole generation of young people”  Let me expand on my reasons why this is so:

First what the coalition government has produced will lead to the worst possible outcomes not just for students, but for universities also.  As John Denham MP, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary has pointed out “Universities will need to charge fees of at least £7,500 just to avoid losing money, so those that can’t will be forced to cut quality and dumb-down.  As for students, they will be paying off debts for 30 years”.

Second the Liberals in particular do not seem to have learnt the most salient message from the public during the past 18 months of the need to restore trust in their elected politicians.  Rewind the calendar to April this year, one of the central messages of the Liberal Democrat election campaign was their total opposition to any rise in tuition fees.  This of course underlined their belief that tuition fees should be abolished entirely.  The result of this Liberal volte-face has a detrimental affect on politicians of all parties.  How can we restore trust to politics and increase the confidence of the public that we will act in their interest when it’s so evident barely six months into the job politicians rip up their previous promises?

Finally later this month I’m due to talk with students about politics, the work of a local councillor and how they can get involved in the political sphere  I’m tempted to start my talk with a quote from Vince Cable “most graduates will be worse off as a result of the changes in tuition fees”.   Of course I will be encouraging all of the students to go as far as they can in their studies.   It’s scandalous though that obstacles should be put in the way of students wishing to better themselves by entering higher education and that they should come out of their studies riddled with debt.  In addition no youngster having worked their socks off during school and college should be deprived of going to university.

Never has it been more important for those inside and outside the Labour movement to unite, campaign and remind the public at large that as far as the Coalition Government is concerned “we are most definitely not all in this together”.   Be it increased tuition fees, the rise in VAT or the cuts in housing benefit, the winners are clearly not those who need the help the most, for whom the Coalition Government once claimed to represent.

Richard Robinson is a Labour councillor in Broxtowe.

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