David Blackburn

Cable backs the Browne report

Cable backs the Browne report
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The Lib Dem website still says that the party stands for the abolition of tuition fees, so Vince Cable had to draw on all his presentational skill this afternoon. The ‘current system of university funding is no longer feasible’ he said, before adding that Scotland’s free system is unsustainable. Second, he made clear that he and his party have always supported a ‘progressive graduate contribution’. The Browne report incorporates a progressive contribution into an alternative to the current system; Cable vowed to introduce a ‘specific proposal along the lines of the Browne report.’

Cable also dealt with the politically sensitive issue that these changes would not disadvantage middle income earners. He cited the IFS and Browne report’s shared view that the bottom fifth of earners will pay less than they do now, whilst the top 40 percent will pay considerably more. It was, he said, ‘fair and progressive’.

His arguments were purely economic - a drawback, I think. Cable did not make the case that the extra money would improve university education, and he refused to disclose the extent of cuts to research budgets. Vice-chancellors justify increased fees on the grounds of maintaining international competitiveness in the higher education market and to sustain British economic growth. John Denham was strongest when attacking this aspect of Cable’s presentation, and Cable will have to fill this gap in his rhetoric once the spending review has revealed the depth of cuts to the universities budget.