Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tuition fees: No easy way out for the Liberal Democrats

There is no easy solution to the tuition fees conundrum for the Liberal Democrats.

Our ministers have agreed to abstain on the question if they are not happy with the final proposals, while many of our backbench MPs have been so vocal in their opposition to any change that they have no option but to vote against those proposals.

Personally, I would happy to go back to a system of free higher education, but that is because I believe that the university sector has expanded far too much.

So much so that it is in danger of becoming exploitative. Young people are now charged thousands for a piece of paper that no longer means that much. One of the reasons that I took a part-time Masters degree as a mature student was because I felt my first degree was in danger of devaluation by this educational inflation.

If Labour's target of having half of young people taking degrees then the person of average academic ability would have a degree and that piece of paper would be worthless.

I also object to the assumption both that higher education is an industry like any other - Labour gave the game away by asking Lord Browne to lead the inquiry - and that it is justified by its effect on the economy.

Missives from Doktorb puts it well:
The depressing manner in which Uni as a gateway to mega-bucks jobs and economic stability has been accepted without question is perhaps the more vital question. When did education for the good of the mind become unfashionable? It is this question which has been forgotten by almost everyone involved in the debate.
I suspect that a few universities will close in the coming years and I will not mourn them. But it is clear that most will stay open and that the current numbers of students will more or less be maintained.

If this is the case then it may well be that the Brown proposals are not so objectionable. Figures accompanying a Telegraph blog post by Neil O'Brien suggest that they would a more progressive system of charging than exists at present.

But that still does not mean that there is an easy way out for the Liberal Democrats.

11 comments:

Braveheart said...

if 18 ministers are unable to vote for party policy, should they not be expelled from the party?

if not, why not?

Jonathan said...

Because we are not the Labour Party c.1982.

Braveheart said...

A meaningless respone: the Labour Party was not in government in 1982.

If 18 MPs, never mind ministers, cannot support party policy, why should they not be disciplined?

Braveheart said...

try this...

http://braveheart-braveheartsblog.blogspot.com/

Frank H Little said...

Jonathan is right. Braveheart should distinguish between the core beliefs of the party, and policy, which, while it is developed in line with party philosophy, may have to be tweaked in the light of circumstances.

I do mean "tweaked", not thrown over completely. The second part of the pledge on higher education, as I understand it, was to strive for more fairness in the system of payment. There is a good argument that Browne moves towards that.

Braveheart said...

Frank,

so much obfuscation...

"distinguish between the core beliefs of the party, and policy,.."... meaning?

...We can have any policy we want and change it at will and claim "philosophy" overrides any promise you may have thought that you heard us make on policy...

Silly public. Silly students. Have they no conception of the subtlety of the distinction between "policy" and "political philosophy"....?

What's that point of a manifesto promise then?

And we're not talking some obscure commitment to regulate the sizes of brims on bowler hats ......

Making a public, strongly worded, written, individually signed, televised and solemn oath to a specific voter grouping such as students, in a university, with officers of the sudents union present, and making it a front page news item in the national press and broadcasting, and on every student publication, is not an invitation to consider the implications of the gradations of the application of philosophy in practice.

It's a promise and it has been broken.

BTW, loved that "tweaked".

And so far no attempt to address my question: if the Lib Dem policy is a gradute tax and 18 ministers want to vote for a rise in tuition fees (which they signed an oath against), why should they not be disciplined by the party for opposing party policy in a parliamentary vote?

Braveheart said...

You guys should read this stuff.

It'a Liberal website and most of the comments are from your lot...

...scathing and disillusioned all at once....

http://www.libdemvoice.org/nick-clegg-writes-to-lib-dem-mps-over-tuition-fees-21594.html#comment-146411

Frank H Little said...

You asked why ministers were not to be expelled from the party. We explained.

Braveheart said...

No you didn't. No more than you explained why it is right to make promises to get elected and right to break those promises when elected....

Not that I expected any real explanation...but to not even to try....

I think that explains the Lib Dem position with more eloquence than any attempted excuses...

....

crewegwyn said...

Braveheart -

I have no difficulty with the distinction between core philosophy and policy.

I have many differences with the party on policy - the EU may be the most prominent example. I have no differences on core philosophy.

If the party abandoned its core philosophy then I could no longer be a member. If it changed policies ... well, it HAS to change policies as the world changes. Otherwise we would have fought the 2010 GE on the 1905 manifesto!

Braveheart said...

crewegwyn

I have no difficulty with the distinction between core philosophy and policy either (although I have to say I have never been clear what the Lib Dems stood for. Maybe yu could explain theie "core" philosophy?).

I also have no difficulty with the distinction between a promise made and a promise broken.

I also have no difficulty with the distinction between voting for party policy and opposing it. And in a real party, if you vote against party policy you get disciplined, up to and including expulsion.

It just seems strange to me (and not only me, Ming Campbell and Charles Kennedy and most of the public and lots of people on LIberal Democrat Voice) that people can make solemn pledges to get elected, that solemn pledge remains as party policy, and still they can oppose it, with no apparent comeback.

You have to ask: what is the point of promising anything. What is the point of policy? indeed, what is the point of the party if its "core" philosophy allows such promises to be broken with no comeback?