Sunday, 22 December 2013

Sorry Lefties, But It Was The Tories Who Gave Me The Chance To Go To University

I remember it was either 1989 or early 1990. The Chair of our college student council wanted to inform the rest of us that the Conservatives were going to abolish the student grant and replace it with a loan. By the time we would start university, there would be no grant.

I wrote to the late Michael Colvin, at the time the Conservative MP for Romsey & Waterside, and he replied to outline the plans:

  • The grant would be frozen
  • A student loan would be introduced, and over time increase
  • A point will be reached where the loan equals the maximum student grant
  • In future years after that, they would go up in line with inflation

At the following student council meeting I read out Colvin's letter. The Chair explained to the council that actually the Conservatives planned to abolish the student grant, while Labour would increase it.

Yesterday I had a Twitter debate with a couple of Labour people, who were worked up that the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government tripled tuition fees. Well, asked the question which party/parties tripled tuition fees. I gave the correct reply - Labour.

The Teaching & Higher Education Act 1998 was introduced by Labour and did two things related to student finance:

  1. Introduce upfront £1,000 pa tuition fees
  2. Abolish the student grant and replace it a loan, to be repaid when earnings were above £10,000pa, at 9% of the amount earned above this

Funny that they had forgotten that.

Next, it was Labour who introduced variable top-up fees under the Higher Education Act 2004, breaching a manifesto commitment not to. The defence from these Tweeters can be summed up as:

  • The universities forced this move onto a Government with a landslide majority of 167
  • It's the universities who decide how much to charge
  • "That's different" from the current Government

Well, how a Government with a triple-figure majority can be weak enough to be forced - by a group of academics - against its will to introduce something it has explicitly promised not to is beyond me.

As to it being the universities - rather than the Government - deciding how much to charge the BBC published a list of tuition fees for those starting last year, and, as you can see, there is a range in how much they charge. Indeed, my alma mater, the University of Oxford has decided to reduce its fees for people from low-income families.

Then, I am supposed to be grateful that Labour supports people from my sort of background going to university by having maintenance grants and scholarships. Well, firstly, Labour abolished the grants in the first place, so I can't get excited about them later bringing them back at a much lower level. Secondly, scholarships have been around for decades - so, sorry, not going to thank Labour for that.

What really pisses me off is this idea that I am supposed to be grateful as the Conservatives only support university education for the rich (hey, why not say "toffs" and "the 1%"?) while Labour supports education for all.

Under the Conservatives I was able to go to university with a student grant, no fees and leave without being in debt.

If I had been 10 years younger, I would have been put off by my family having to find £1,000pa upfront to pay for Labour's tuition fees and put off by Labour's abolition of the student grant.

I know which party helps people like me go to university.

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