No one, not even Liberal Democrats themselves, can now deny that they have let down their voters, after their complete U-turn on tuition fees over the past few weeks.
Nick Clegg told the NUS before the general election “We will resist, vote against, campaign against, any lifting of that cap” – the cap referring to the limit of £3290 a year students pay at uni. This cap is now being increased to £9000 – almost tripling the amount of debt students could have after graduating, and meaning some students may end up leaving university with upwards of £50k of debt when living costs are taken into account.
This move is a huge and unfair shift in the burden of university funding. It represents the fallacy that only students benefit from universities – when in fact it is the whole of society which benefits from university graduates; people who can tackle the problems of today: housing problems, global warming, economic stability and finding effective cancer treatments.
Instead of increasing fees, we should be increasing the banking levy and implementing the Robin Hood tax, which would generate billions to go towards retaining the £3k a year cap and reducing the deficit. Cutting the education budget will only make matters worse in the future when we do not have the people we need to fill top jobs and be our brightest thinkers.
But the biggest and worst consequence of the Lib Dem betrayal is the fact that it will put off thousands of poorer students from applying to university, and those that do will feel inclined to choose ‘cheaper’ subjects or universities. Since most wealthy students do not face that problem, the divisive social impact will be enormous. Introducing a two-tier university system when inequality levels in the UK are significantly higher than many other EU countries will be catastrophic.
Students, community groups, unions and charities nationwide oppose the hike in fees and cuts to education. The economic situation is difficult, but that is exactly why we should be supporting students right now.
So, Sarah Newton (MP for Truro and Falmouth) should deliver on the ‘compassionate’ side of the compassionate conservatism she claimed to support in the general election. But most importantly, Liberal Democrat MPs in Cornwall should remember their pledge to young people – to resist the increase in tuition fees and adopt a fairer system.