What's the story on tuition fees?

May 30, 2011 5:02 PM

In hindsight, Liberal Democrats must admit that we should have made it clear that our promise to scrap tuition fees could only be guaranteed in circumstances where the Liberal Democrats had an overall parliamentary majority, because both the Conservatives and Labour were committed to tuition fees.

Labour introduced tuition fees in 1998 when they had made no manifesto promise to do so - and at time when they had an overall majority and strong public finances. They then broke their manifesto promise and tripled fees, and later also set up the Browne Review which signified that further rises were on the way. Senior Labour

politicians admit that they would have increased tuition fees further if they had won.

The Liberal Democrats should also have made it clear that the pledge to abolish fees could only take place when the country could afford it, and not with the size of the deficit inherited from Labour. It soon became clear that the country's financial crisis was far worse than Labour had admitted.

The new policy is more progressive than the old Labour policy. No-one will pay up-front tuition fees now. No-one will begin to pay back loans until they're on at least £21,000 (rising from £15,000 under the previous Government) - and then only from £6.25 a week. And loans are being extended for the cost of tuition to the majority of part-time students for the first time. So, no-one will have to pay until they can afford to do so - when they are in well paid jobs. According to theInstituteofFiscal Studies, 25%, maybe as many as 30% of graduates will pay back less than now. The new policy is a major improvement on Labour's approach - although unfortunately not quite as popular as scrapping fees completely.