Believe it or not, Liberal Democrat policy on higher education funding is still to abolish tuition fees. Yes, as it stands the Lib Dem manifesto in 2015 would call for the same approach as the 2010 manifesto.
Scrap unfair university tuition fees for all students taking their ﬁrst degree, including those studying part-time, saving them over £10,000 each. We have a ﬁnancially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the change is affordable even in these difﬁcult economic times, and without cutting university income. We will immediately scrap fees for ﬁnal year students.
- Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010
We’ll be laughed out of office and out of our 57 seats.
The tuition fees pledge was probably the biggest mistake the Liberal Democrats have made over the past few years. Yes, the impact on voters is nothing compared to benefits changes or the NHS Bill, but it’s the issue that has most taken trust away from the party.
It seems obvious to me that we can’t maintain this policy for the next election and it makes sense to change it sooner rather than later. Trying to change tuition fees policy will be controversial. There will be an almighty row with the Liberal Left and perhaps the Social Liberal Forum. The row will remind voters of the whole tuition fees balls up once again. Do we want that to happen in 2014, just before the next election?
Personally I’m quite happy with the Coalition higher education funding package. I think Vince Cable did good work in negotiating a fair package for students. The new system is basically a time limited graduate tax, which is pretty close to what many Liberal Democrat members wanted. I also think it should be given time to bed in and prove itself. So my vote would be to more or less maintain the status quo.
Whatever the detail of eventual party policy, I just hope we can get it debated and agreed quickly. As we get closer to the election we need to be talking about our real successes in government, not pointing to our failures.