...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Day 3574: Miners and Tuition Fees. When you're in a hole…


The news that all the miners (AND their rescuers!) have been gotten out of the hole in the ground where they were trapped for the last two and a half months is very good and very welcome.

Though to correct Mr Paxo on the Newsnight Show last night, it's NOT a "rare good news story" it is actually a rare good story that you and your ilk decide to be news.

And, sorry to have to say it 'cos it sounds grudging, it wasn't a "miracle" either.

This rescue was a triumph of human endurance and ingenuity and engineering.

The laws of physics were in no way violated in getting the people out. Our Lady in the Blue Frock conspicuously did not appear from nowhere to gather up the miners and float them all back up through the solid rock to the surface. You achieve more with prayer and a highly trained team of specialist miners than you do with the intercession of his holiness alone.

In fact, if any inexplicable violations of physics were involved it was the unexpected total collapse of the mine in the first place. But not many people put THAT down to the intervention of le bon dieu, do they.

Right, sorry about that.

Well done to everyone involved. It is a joy and a relief that they all got out.

I have to admit, I was rather nervous at all the celebrating at getting the FIRST miner out, joyful as that was, and wanted to wait until we were sure that ALL of them would reach safety.

And frankly, THAT'S a form of SUPERSTITION too, so who am I to talk, eh?


Mr Paxo managed to SEGUE from the disaster of the collapsed mine to the disaster of the collapsed funding of our universities by referring to the fifty-seven trapped souls waiting for rescue on the Liberal Democrat benches, and if it's good enough for the ol' Rooster Booster, it's good enough for me.

Tuition fees have left us in a HOLE and no mistake, and it's no good saying that doubling them is in ANY WAY similar to abolishing them. Digging a second hole in no way fills in the first one.

It was good to see Newsnight's report where Sir Mr the Merciless made a firm commitment to keep to the pledge that he signed, even if it was then followed by Mr Hugs firmly nailing his jelly to the fence.

Anyway, we've just received the latest survey from Mr Former Deputy Lady Mayor Stephen at Lib Dem Voice and I thought it would be worthwhile sharing Daddy Richard's answers:
How should higher education be funded?

It should be funded from general taxation

We should be sending many fewer people to elite academic institutions, and instead be providing a broader range of alternative opportunities. And it should be paid for from general taxation.

In the party’s general election manifesto this year, the party stated: “The Liberal Democrats will phase out tuition fees over the course of six years, so that, after school, everyone who gets the grades has the opportunity to go to university without fear of debt, no matter what their background.” Almost all elected Liberal Democrat MPs signed the NUS pledge to “to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”. Which of the following statements comes closest to your view:

Lib Dem MPs must continue to stand by these pledges and oppose any increase in tuition fees. This is the only honourable position

We are supposed to be the Party that is different, that keeps promises. Just because the others are shit doesn't mean we have to be too.

If you were an MP how would you personally vote?

Vote against

Are there any changes to the plans announced to date which would make you more likely to support recommendation based on the Browne Report?

(1) absolutely no market in university places (2) no commercial interest charged (3) substantially lower repayment rate (perhaps 1% or 2% of income not 9%), possibly stepped - with a higher rate for higher rate tax payers (3) substantially shorter period before write off

Under Browne's scheme, a person earning £21,000 pays 9% which is £1,890 a year, and would repay £21,000 (i.e. the "recommended" fee level) in eleven years, subject to having to cover the interest on top.

By my back-of-an-envelope estimate, a person earning £44,000 paying just 2% would have repayments of £880 per annum. If we write off the outstanding debt after 11 years, then they would repay a total of £9,680, broadly similar to the current level of borrowing to fund a three year course, meaning that no one paying basic rate tax – 85% of people – would pay more than at present, and in fact most would pay substantially less.

You might say that those graduates who do go one to benefit substantially from their further education might not achieve their higher earnings until later, and an eleven year cut off might let them off a lot of repayment, so perhaps a similar effect could be achieved from 1% over 20 years, which might seem more reasonable.

In this way the Liberal Democrats could be seen not to break their pledge and to make the Browne proposals substantially more progressive. The key questions are how much less in revenue it would this return and what level of cost to the Government of writing off the outstanding debts after eleven or twenty years is likely to be?

Thinking of the broadly supportive position Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have adopted in response to the Browne Report – and irrespective of your own opinion on fees – which of these statements comes closest to your view of why they’ve changed their positions:

Nick and Vince’s over-riding concerns are cutting the deficit and making sure the Coalition is seen to work in the national interest, and that is why they are broadly endorsing Browne

I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and not answer:

Nick and Vince were never comfortable with the party’s position of opposing tuition fees, and see Browne as a convenient way of moving to a position they supported anyway.

We've been here before, remember, when the proposal that we might have to drop some of our policies came up and the abolition of tuition fees was the one that was floated widely in the press. THAT was seen as Nick flying a kite then, too. But I prefer to take him at his word when he said that he was totally committed to abolition, even if we were not able to do it all at once.

The problem is that we had a plan to bring tuition fees down from three grand a year; I'm not sure we have a plan to bring them down from SEVEN grand a year (let alone TWELVE).

What has been the impact, if any, of Vince Cable’s support for the Browne Report on your view of Lib Dem involvement in the Coalition?

I supported Lib Dem involvement in the Coalition in May, and continue to support it

But am considerably less happier about doing so

And what is the impact, if any, on your support for the Lib Dems:

I remain an enthusiastic party member

A tricky question to answer because I DO remain enthusiastic about the Party and indeed it's policy (which this flatly contradicts) so I reject the other alternative answer:

I remain an enthusiastic party member, but am angry with the party leadership

I'm not "angry" with the Party leadership. I think that they are wrong on this issue, but I see why in an impossible position they've made the choice that they have. I hope that with further negotiations a better solution will be found.

What is your own experience of higher education:

I attended a higher education institution.

Specifically Cambridge. And I went to Cambridge because I was very good at mathematics and Cambridge was the best place for maths. I would hate the idea that anyone would have to choose their University based on any criteria other than what was best for their chosen subject.

What is your own experience of higher education funding

I funded myself (or was funded by my family) and so incurred no debt

My fees were paid by the country. Thank you all! My maintenance was paid by my family. Thank you, dad!

Do you work in higher education now?


Though I *should* have Doctored in mathematics. I should have been a don.


Are you a parent of children who may be affected by the proposed changes?


Not unless Millennium can go to Cambridge. Do they take stuffed toys, these days?



Andrew Hickey said...

Pretty much exactly my answers, although my university experience is impossible to sum up (two unfinished undergraduate degrees, one partly-taxpayer-funded, one not, plus a certificate in maths from the OU, a diploma from Oxford and currently doing a Master's - all the last few paid for out of my own pocket).

Terence Eden said...

One minor point - students do already choose institutes based on costs. If it weren't the cost of fees, it would be the cost of accommodation / transport / general cost of living.

Unless we go back to giving grants to students, they'll always have to choose between pricey London accommodation and a brilliant course or studying at the University of Skegness.

Millennium Dome said...

Not an unfair point, Mr Terrance, and we should work to eliminate those barriers to opportunity, not encourage universities to set up newer and bigger ones!

ldbelfast said...

"Not unless Millennium can go to Cambridge. Do they take stuffed toys, these days?"
Not at Oxford, maybe at some university in the Fens?