Alan Bennett was right on tuition fees

This week I received a letter telling me that “The Student Loans Company can advise you that the outstanding balance on your Income Contingent Loan(s) should now be repaid in full.”

Recently I have been paying over £100 a month back towards my student loan, and it’s great to have it finally paid off, but it’s taken me until the age of 30 to do so. And I’m one of the lucky ones. I earn above the national average salary, don’t have any dependents and, crucially, my loan was for living expenses only (1999-2002), not tuition fees.

So, my loan was approximately £10k.

Current students will have to pay back approximately £20k (£10k tuition fees plus £10k living expenses).

Under the system proposed by the coalition, graduates may have to pay back around £45k (£35k tuition fees plus £10k living expenses).

How long is this likely to take them? Well it all depends how much you earn and what happens to interest rates. But if it took me that long, it’s going to take the majority of graduates thirty plus years. This is at a time when many of them will be raising families, buying houses, etc.

I’m afraid I simply don’t accept that it’s fair to ask new graduates to pay back this huge amount of money while the rest of us, who were lucky enough to graduate under previous systems, get off scot free.

I appreciate that Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have been trying to make the Browne Report proposals fairer than the Tories would have done. However, they have done a huge disservice to the Liberal Democrats by giving the impression that they support the raise in tuition fees, despite having the abstention opt-out secured in the coalition agreement. This has dealt a massive blow to our credibility. Our policy remains that decided many years ago at conference, and confirmed repeatedly, most recently in the 2010 manifesto. We are against tuition fees as a way of funding higher education and want to phase them out.

Alan Bennett’s comment, made after the Labour Government introduced higher tuition fees in 2003, was right then and remains so now.

“A proper education should be free at the point of entry and the point of exit.”
(Preface to The History Boys, 2004)

Sky News presents live budget coverage from… Hebden Bridge!

Lib Dem Hilary Myers

Today’s live coverage of the budget on Sky News came from… Hebden Bridge! It was well worth watching, and not just to hear the Labour candidate Steph Booth describe herself as Cherie’s “wicked stepmother”. The coverage centred on the fact that Calder Valley is a swing constituency. The reporter interviewed local business owners, residents, financial experts, and made a lot of poor jokes about the only floating voters around being ducks.

Of course they also interviewed the three main PPCs. Lib Dem Hilary Myers came across very well, pointing out that the budget would do little to help close the gap between rich and poor, which has widened under the Labour government. She was also disappointed that there were no plans to help the environment, such as those proposed by the Lib Dems to promote green jobs.

Steph Booth
Labour's Steph Booth

How about the others? Craig Whittaker rambled on about helping businesses while completely ignoring the general public. Steph Booth was constantly ribbed for being Cherie’s stepmother, at one point joking that she was the “wicked stepmother”. Perhaps she reads Lib Dem John Beacroft-Mitchell’s blog? Another local character putting in an appearance was David Fletcher, owner of Innovation, and the man behind the controversial Garden Street development, which is currently on ice having been refused planning permission. He didn’t seem very impressed either.

In the end, though, I think it was the presenter that missed the point, constantly asking whether the Tories will take this seat off Labour. Well, of course they will. It’s what else happens that will be interesting. From figures available on Wikipedia, the number of votes for both Labour and the Conservatives has steadily decreased since 1997. Labour now have no borough councillors anywhere in the constituency. Is it time for them to drop into third place?