It’s taken Ed Miliband four years to come up with a policy on tuition fees, and frankly, it’s disappointing. His policy turns out to be a cosmetic reduction of fees to £6, 000 a year. Isn’t that less than £9, 000? No, no it isn’t, because the vast majority of students won’t pay back the full cost of the fees. The very richest graduates will be a few grand better off, leaving everyone else in exactly the same position, as confirmed by Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
It’s not free education, so it won’t bring back the students lost to the Greens this time around from their wonderful-sounding alternate reality. I eagerly await the Green’s ‘fully-costed manifesto’ at the end of the month, that Holy Grail which Natalie Bennet has been lost without, inevitably full of lies, tax hikes or both.
In Britain, the majority of university students go on to be perfectly capable of paying for their education; those who don’t, of course, won’t have to. Fee cuts are a subsidy for the affluent, at the expense of the rest of the country. Why shouldn’t those who go on to benefit financially from their education be asked to pay some portion of the costs of that education?
If Ed Miliband looks at the miserable state of student finance, the paltry maintenance loans, the high costs of student accommodation, and the fees are what stands out for him that says he’s more worried about headlines than he is about students. I’ll give him credit for supporting a small increase in maintenance grants, but this doesn’t help the urgent problem of inadequate loans for students whose parents, for whatever reason, aren’t giving them the money. The government thinks they ought to.
Ed Miliband has been talking about restoring ‘the faith of young people in politics’. Maybe he could start by being honest about the fact that the new system has not made students worse off, as he would like us to believe: higher fees have been accompanied by more generous repayment system whereby only those earning £21,000 or above will have to pay a penny back, compared to £15, 000 under Labour. This concession was achieved by the Lib Dems, in the face of a Tory party who made the increase in fees a red line in the coalition formation.
These policies are designed with the upcoming election in mind and little else: the fees policy has been chosen with the student vote in mind, not student wellbeing. It’s lazy populism, and I like to think students are too good to fall for it.