Tuition Fees

Part of Opposition Day — [7th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 8:40 pm on 30th November 2010.

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Photo of Paul Farrelly Paul Farrelly Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme 8:40 pm, 30th November 2010

I would have expected Lord Browne's report to be put to the House, so that hon. Members could make their minds up on whether they agreed with it or not. I certainly did not expect a report that was not totally independent. It was shaped by the new coalition because the expectation was for an 80% cut in teaching grants. The notion that the report was truly independent is a fallacy.

The Liberal Democrats also said that we face Greek contagion, and how the promise of not 25 or 50% cuts, but 80% cuts in teaching must soothe the bond markets. They have tried to shift the goalposts. At Prime Minister's questions recently, the Deputy Prime Minister, in a there-you-two-go-again moment, said:

"We all agree...that graduates should make some contribution"-[ Hansard, 10 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 281.]

The trouble is that the Liberal Democrats never agreed that there should be a contribution. When the Business Secretary announced the U-turn, the Lib Dem website was still advertising, in the "What we stand for" section, their six-stage plan to abolish fees entirely. We know through leaked documents that the Lib Dem leadership planned to ditch the pledge all along if the coalition dream came true-as the first casualty, with no hard bargaining. I am sorry that the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats is not in the Chamber because that is not new politics; that is time-dishonoured, old-fashioned cynicism. The only thing that has changed is that the Lib Dems are finally in government. No wonder students are demonstrating and no wonder that Lib Dem voters feel betrayed.

The new policy is not only a breach of faith, but according to the evidence, a large leap in the dark. Under Labour, the participation of people from less well-off backgrounds at university did not decrease, but frankly, neither did it rise dramatically. What seems to have occurred is common sense: improvements to student support helped to offset the deterrent effect of fees, debt and its perception. It has also become more normal for young people to want to go to university. There is similar evidence of what happens when fees are introduced from overseas-from Australia, Canada and New Zealand -yet there is also plenty of evidence of the harmful effects on participation from big increases in fees.

At some of our universities, participation has a shockingly low base, likewise in some of our professions, including medicine-the same is true of the US Ivy league-yet those are the places and courses that will charge the highest fees. Comparatively, our fees will be more than the general level in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, yet when Canada lifted the fee cap on courses such as medicine, there was a large fall in participation. It is hard to see what in the coalition's policy will improve participation, but I fear that much of it will make the situation worse.