Saturday, 4 December 2010

The LibDems need to take the argument to the people, not abstain from it

LibDem talk of abstaining or voting against increased tuition fees is just wrong. If you believe in something, then you need to take it to the people and argue why it is right. And this proposal for university funding is right in so many ways.

Firstly it puts the funding of our universities on a stable and sustainable basis for their long-term future, something which successive governments - unwilling to make courageous decisions that require robust and intelligent arguments - have ducked over many years. This proposal allows us to build and sustain world class, research-based universities which are essential to the country's future.

Secondly, it is not about tripling the cost of higher education as so many naive freshers seem to think. The cost of university education is not changing. We are simply deciding how that education should be funded. Whether it should be from general taxation by all taxpayers irrespective of means, or increasingly by students, who are substantial and lifelong beneficiaries of a university education, not least in their earning abilities.

This proposal goes to the heart of a fair society. It is about students accepting greater responsibility for their good fortune by shouldering a higher proportion of the funding from their enhanced earnings. Starting above £21,000 per year. Well above the pay of dinner ladies who currently pay for the university education of our largely middle class children.

Both students and the Labour opposition are on the wrong side of this argument. Not only are these proposals fairer - ensuring that those 'with the broadest shoulders' provide proportionately more funding - they are also progressive. Far more progressive than the current arrangements introduced by Labour. They enhance the participation of poorer students, cover part-time courses and ensure that as tuition fee's move towards their highest permitted levels, wider engagement is actively sought. 

Like so much else that is now being re-evaluated of Labour's thirteen years of expensive, centralised, statist orthodoxy, the most we can say is that they may have had the right intentions. But lazy, self-righteous hysteria against anything proposed by this Liberal-Conservative Coalition who represent 59% of the electorate, is worth fighting. Not abstaining from.