“Dad, who was Nick Clegg?”

Today’s tuition fees vote will make for an interesting bit of history in 20 years’ time.

Before I say why, here are a few (probably unpopular) thoughts on the issue of tuition fees:

  • I agree in both principle and practice with tuition fees. A university education is a choice, and something to be valued by the individual who makes that choice. Once the principle of fees had been established by the Labour government the politics of funding higher education was always going to be about where the cap on fees was, not whether there were fees.
  • I don’t happen to think of any education in the utilitarian way politicians seem to think of it – utlitarian as demonstrated by the fact it’s the responsibility of the Business Secretary and not the Education Secretary. Thus, if a higher education is valuable in its own right (whilst also having an economic benefit to the individual and the economy), it should be paid for (at least in majority part) by the individual.
  • Admitting the possibility of fees means a market will, and probably should, develop. Yes, this effectively makes it a US-type model, but I’m comfortable with that. A University Fund for young ‘uns in a family is a good idea.
  • A graduate tax is a nonsense because an individual would never stop paying it and their repayments could be more than the cost of the fees. It has elements of progressiveness in it, but it’s also a disincentive on social mobility.

Watching the Lib Dems struggle on the topic of university tuition fees has, I’ll be honest, brought me some pleasure. Their position was and is a nonsense, as follows:

  • Their position on tuition fees was pretty much the most distinctive and best-known domestic policy they had. They’ve traded that at the fist sniff of power; either that, or they knew their policy was a nonsense but had worked on the basis they would never need to implement it. (This is partly supported by the idea Nick Clegg privately urged his colleagues to drop the position.)
  • I don’t know that anyone had anticipated Clegg’s “New Politics” being the explicit reneging of a personal and party pledge to oppose not just a rise in tuition fees, but the removal of tuition fees.
  • Clegg has tried to defend the move by saying previously 1 in 7 people went to university and now it’s 1 in 3. What is that if not a huge rise in opportunity for people from a wider range of backgrounds?
  • That government ministers even considered not voting for their own policy (even if they end up doing so) tells you what an incredibly ridiculous position the Lib Dems got themselves in.

All things considered – and even taking into account the short memories and fickle nature of the British voting public – the tuition fees debacle as applied to the Lib Dems makes me think they may never in a generation or two be thought of as any sort of credible, governing force at a national level.

When the future comes and I potentially drop my one-year-old as 18-year-old off at university, I’ll think back to today and mention to him the peculiar time when a small party called the Liberal Democrats, led by a pub-quiz question politician called Nick Clegg, abandoned their policy and principles because they happened to have a bit of power.

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rich_w

Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

3 thoughts on ““Dad, who was Nick Clegg?””

  1. While only a small comment in this post, I have to say anyone that condones a move towards a US model neither understands the economic catastrophe that comes with the market approach, on several levels, as well as social stratification.
    The one thing this country certainly has going for it is a culture of mutual welfare being a pillar of progress and remaining world-class education system. [this is where people falsely compare themselves to the US, as they think they should emulate the US- what they really mean to say they want to emulate the 30 outstanding universities they constantly hear about; the 30 out of 5,700 universities in America]
    Yes, something needs to change, but anyone who condones this mentality whether for economic or the social-moral reasons stated above, doesn’t understand the whole picture. And, all sides need to stop treating it as a dichotomous choice – raise tuition or grad tax. Its not doing us any good.

  2. While only a small comment in this post, I have to say anyone that condones a move towards a US model neither understands the economic catastrophe that comes with the market approach, on several levels, as well as social stratification.
    The one thing this country certainly has going for it is a culture of mutual welfare being a pillar of progress and remaining world-class education system. [this is where people falsely compare themselves to the US, as they think they should emulate the US- what they really mean to say they want to emulate the 30 outstanding universities they constantly hear about; the 30 out of 5,700 universities in America]
    Yes, something needs to change, but anyone who condones this mentality whether for economic or the social-moral reasons stated above, doesn’t understand the whole picture. And, all sides need to stop treating it as a dichotomous choice – raise tuition or grad tax. Its not doing us any good.

  3. Ness – I do understand the implications of a market in higher education. That’s why I support it, and for the benefits that flow throughout the system and not just any elite institutions.
    I think we need to be careful about thinking of higher education in terms of welfare. People who are disproportionately represented in the formal welfare system in the UK don’t touch the HE debate.

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