Skip to main content

The Browne Report - where to go from here

Dear Nick,
I believe that tertiary education should be available to everyone in the UK, rich or poor, especially poor, who can benefit from it.
But I have never supported scrapping tuition fees. That would involve using State taxation powers to compel the lower-paid, who are less likely to have benefited from tertiary education, to subsidise the higher-paid who are more likely. I don’t think John Stuart Mill would have approved.
People with degrees get paid more. It is only fair that a person who gets the benefit and is able without hardship to contribute to the cost, should do so.
In view of the huge expansion in tertiary education, I believe scrapping tuition fees is unaffordable. It was unaffordable before the banking crisis. It is even less affordable now that the country is burdened with a huge deficit caused by bailing out the banks.
That is my personal view but current Lib Dem policy, made democratically by vote at Conference, is otherwise. Scrapping tuition fees is party policy.
It is, however, not a fundamental value. Policies can change, values don’t.
So what’s to be done?
I have looked at the Browne Report, which is readily available for download by anyone with internet access. It states that allowing students to defer payment of fees is critical to takeup.
The Browne recommendations allow for this by making nothing payable by students for fees. Nothing is repayable unless they graduate and begin to earn a good income. If anything is repayable, it is related to their ability to pay.
That seems fair to me.
The Browne Report states that making funds available for maintenance by deferred loans is also critical to takeup.
That seems fair to me too. It is better than a grant system based on family income because it frees students from family circumstances.
The Browne recommendations propose the same provision for part-time students for the first time.
That seems fair to me as well. Currently they have to pay up front, which is a hardship.
The Browne Report states that the percentage of young people in tertiary education in the UK has risen from 6% in 1960 to 45% today. This is a huge number of people. The cost has rocketed. I don’t see how free tertiary education can be paid for.
People who want to learn, who want that qualification, will welcome the opportunity offered by the Browne proposals.
In May’s General Election the party campaigned on a policy of scrapping tuition fees but the party did not win a majority. It got only 57 seats. The policy is still party policy, but we cannot implement it.
So where do we go from here?
The fact that some MPs have promised on the record – whether in writing or not does not matter - to support scrapping tuition fees puts them in a dilemma. The promise cannot be unmade. But to vote that way would be futile in the sense that whether they do or not, scrapping tuition fees is not going to happen. The arithmetic of democracy has made sure of that.
I am not convinced that the obligation to keep their personal promises entitles them to give right-wing Tories a precedent for rebelling in future over other issues which may be even more important.
The arithmetic of democracy has given the MPs power but it rules them too.


Popular posts from this blog

My Remainer's Diary Day 299

For 298 days I have kept my #Remainer's Diary on Facebook. Two nights ago my FB account became inaccessible without explanation. So I'm back on Blogger.
Diary Day 299: the UK's Office of Budget Responsibility published its first Fiscal Risks Report, a 312-page tome, in accordance with a requirement introduced by Parliament in October 2015 that the OBR must produce a fiscal risks report at least once every two years. It is freely downloadable by anyone.  Fiscal is a fancy word for pertaining to government finances. Derivation: 16th century, from Latin fisc─ülis concerning the state treasury, from fiscus public money, the public purse. It is about government income and spending.  The Fiscal Risks Report refers to a wide range of "fiscal pressures", and says that the risks posed by Brexit "do not supplant the possible shocks and likely pressures that we have already discussed, but they could affect the likelihood and impact of many of them."  It states that imp…

ELDR news from Palermo

Here is my report back to Liberal Democrats who directly elected me (thank you!) to the party’s delegation to the European Liberal, Democratic and Reform Party (ELDR). The second Council meeting of 2011 (there are two annually) and the annual Congress took place in Palermo, Sicily on 23-25 November at the invitation of the Italia dei Valori (Italy of Principles) Party. There were resolutions and emergency resolutions proposed by member parties, too many to summarise here, of which the most significant was, I think, one from the UK Liberal Democrats on the prospect of war with Iran. The gist is that it expresses concern at military rhetoric, top-level consultations between military and political leaders and the stationing of military assets off the Iranian coast pointing to the possibility of pre-emptive attacks being launched by Israel and the USA against Iran., and it calls for steps to be taken in Europe to dissuade them. When the US military are still engaged in both Iraq and Afgha…

My #Remainer's Diary Day 300: constitutional crisis is coming

My #Remainer's Diary Day 300: I mull over a joint statement from the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland, Carwyn Jones and Nicola Sturgeon about the repeal bill. It says: “We have... put forward constructive proposals about how we can deliver an outcome which will protect the interests of all the nations in the UK, safeguard our economies and respect devolution.  “Regrettably, the bill does not do this. Instead, it is a naked power grab, an attack on the founding principles of devolution and could destabilise our economies.”  So a constitutional crisis that was latent ever since 23rd June 2016 is due to be thrashed out in Westminster debates.  A spokeswoman for the Maybot said she was not aware of a contingency plan for what might happen if Scotland or Wales refused legislative consent.  That is apart from the rows there will be about the bill's Henry VIII clause powers and putting human rights in doubt.  As the clock ticks, businesses act to protect themselves.  EasyJet announced…