Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Liberal Democrats against tuition fees
I am proud that the Liberal Democrats have a long history of standing against tuition fees and supporting inclusive Higher Education.
Whatever the confused rhetoric of the coalition government on tuition fees and the broader question of Higher Education, the Lib Dems are still a party which supports the principle of abolishing tuition fees, as witnessed at the Scottish Lib Dem conference when a huge majority of party activists and members rejected increasing tuition fees.
Most of our grassroots members are more than uncomfortable with the shape government policy on Higher Education is taking. We did not campaign at the General Election for the regressive, discriminatory and simplistic remedies of the Browne Review.
We believe in a Higher Education system that is genuinely fair. We believe that education should be open to all. As the great Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith said: "a man is not free until he has the opportunities and means for education". The policy being proposed would remove these opportunities for many - and in our view that's not acceptable.
Only yesterday, over 100 Lib Dem parliamentary candidates urged Nick Clegg to oppose plans to increase tuition fees: Lib Dem candidates urge rethink on tuition fees (The Guardian, 29/11/10) This might not be the most sensible tactic in respect to maintaining party unity at the current time, but it reinforces the fact that we broadly remain a party opposed to tuition fees.
It's not just the grassroots activists who are unhappy with the government's policy. Some Lib Dem MPs, like Party President Tim Farron, have been outspoken in their opposition to increasing tuition fees; even if we are realistic enough to recognise that coalition requires compromise and that some of the changes being proposed are preferable to the status quo, we also value our distinct principles and beliefs as well as party integrity. Tim Farron accepts that Vince Cable has helped "improve the package" but that "people like me feel that it's not right to go against what we said [when] making a pledge". This is something that would strike a chord with many ordinary party members.
As Margaret Smith MSP pointed out at our Scottish conference, Liberal Democrats also see that the beneficiaries of Higher Education are not only the graduates themselves but also wider society. Any truly fair and progressive system of funding Higher Education should also be equipped to tackle current inequalities in education, rather than exacerbate them.
I have started a facebook group: Liberal Democrats against tuition fees. I would invite all like-minded people to join.