The application figures for Universities are out and you can make the tuition fee ‘effect’ argument either way.
You can say that applications are down overall 8 %, nearly 9% in England. In contrast, in Scotland where there are no tuition fees, applications are down just 1.7%. Applications from mature students are down even more – and of course, students applying for an ‘equivalent’ degree to one they already own have to pay up front under the new regime. So the trebling of tuition fees has clearly put people off.
Or you can make the opposite argument. You can say that comparing applications to the last 2 years is a false premise because they were record years, and when you compare applications to a more normal year, like 2009, applications overall are actually up. What’s more, applications from students in the poorest 20% of household income are pretty flat, while applications in the highest 20% are down far more. So actually the new regime is not only keeping poor students applying, but is actually promoting social mobility. Great work from Stephen Tall on this.
So let’s ask ourselves, a different question. Let’s presume for a moment that the new tuition fees regime has had a positive effect rather than a negative effect.
If that were to be the case, does that justify the shredding of our reputation and our current standing in the polls, in order to promote social mobility. If the price of devising a better scheme than existed before, which allows a better mix of society to benefit from tertiary education, is to be labeled as liars who can’t be trusted– then is that a price worth paying?
The top line, off the cuff answer is probably yes.
But then think about it.
Supposing we never get the credit for those reforms, suffering only the reputation hit, saying one thing to get elected and another as soon as we’re in power.
Supposing we get hit in the elections. That Lib Dem councilors lose their posts all over the country, and we see Tory costs cutters or incompetent Labour spendthrifts making people’s lives worse, not better.
Supposing we lose badly in Europe and see the Eurosceptic right take our seats in Brussels
Supposing we get hammered at the next general election – hit so badly that we don’t form another coalition but instead find ourselves once again on the margins of politics for a generation. No more Lib Dem policies in government for another 80 years.
All because we agreed to treble tuition fees instead of devising a graduate tax.
I'm not saying that it will happen. But if there was a general election tomorrow - well, that could well happen.
Is that then, a price worth paying?
It’s a bit of a thought. Isn’t it?