What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

February 14, 2007

Facing up to facts

This time last year, then Lib Dem education spokesman Ed Davey - noting the drop in applications to English universities from English students - commented:
“This decline in university applicants shows student fees are already beginning to bite.”
I wonder what his successor, Sarah Teather, will say in response to the news today that applications have risen by 7.2% this year?

The reason for last year’s downward blip was evident to anyone who looked at the figures - 2005 had been a bumper year for applications (up 9.7% in England) as prospective students sensibly sought to apply to univerities before top-up fees kicked-in. It was unsurprising that 2006 saw a correction.

The Labour Government was hypocritical to introduce tuition fees, having explicitly ruled them out in its 1997 manifesto; and even more hypocritical to introduce top-up fees having explicitly ruled them out in its 2001 manifesto. As a result, parents were given less time than they should have been to prepare for their introduction, and many have found it harder to fund their kids through education as a direct result.

But it is the right policy - indeed, the only policy - which will give our universities any chance of standing on their own two feet. The Lib Dems need to start facing up to that reality.


Liberal Polemic said...

Brave words, Stephen, disagreeing with a Lib Dem policy that is so popular with our educated, middle-class membership.

But you're right, of course. The current system, whereby the less academic in society pay for the more academic to gain qualifications that help them earn more than the unqualified is reprehensible.

The sooner we distance ourselves from it the better.

AverageEarthman said...

I still maintain that any system which implicitly requires your parents to fund you has problems. I personally preferred the idea of a graduate income tax.

The government should have made more money available to universities to give as bursaries to talented students from poor backgrounds.

I'd be interested to see how parents income affects the likelihood of someone applying to university.

Also - if your parents refuse to fund you, what then? Can you take them to court to make them?

On the other hand, I do welcome the increase in numbers applying to more practical subjects - maybe now they realise that they will be paying for it at some point, even more students are viewing university as somewhere to get a good qualification from rather than three years of lounging around on their parents money.