David Blackburn

Clegg fights back in tuition fees row

Clegg fights back in tuition fees row
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Nick Clegg has written a gloriously condescending letter to Aaron Porter, who hopes to recall Liberal Democrat MPs who vote in favour of tuition fees rises. Clegg emphasises that he was unable to deliver the tuition fee pledge in coalition, and therefore struck out to make university funding as fair as possible. After a wide consultation, it was found that the graduate contribution scheme is the fairest and most progressive outcome. He urges Porter to temper his language and not misrepresent the government’s position for political aims. ‘Grow up’ seems to be the unspoken request.

‘However,  I also believe that all of us involved in this debate have a greater responsibility to ensure that we do not let our genuinely held disagreements over policy mean that we sabotage an aim that we all share – to encourage people from poorer backgrounds to go to university.

Like me I am sure you have regularly spoken to people who believe that the new proposals will mean them having to pay before they go to university or say that they cannot afford the fees. As you know, there is no upfront charge and the repayments only apply to graduates who over £21,000. If the proposals are passed by Parliament I believe it is crucial that all of us are able to ensure that people know the true picture.’

As Daniel Korski wrote at the weekend, fees work and the empirical evidence is that deferring cost raises participation, especially among low income groups. It is encouraging that Nick Clegg is prepared to stick his neck and make that case. His good work is undone by the continued uncertainty about the voting intentions of Lib Dem ministers. Abstention implies the opposite of Clegg’s position.