Tuition fees were thought to be a key factor during the last general election in Cambridge. The next parliament may well take key decisions on the subject so I think it is an area where it is important the candidate’s views are clear. I am publishing videos outlining my own views, as well as the views of the main party candidates. Click the YouTube logo in the bottom right corner of the videos to view them individually.
Will the Main Party Candidates in Cambridge Commit to Opposing Tuition Fees in the Next Parliament?
- Tony Juniper – Green Party – Yes
- Julian Huppert – Liberal Democrats – Yes (Though this was questioned)
- Daniel Zeichner – Labour – No
- Nick Hillman – Conservative – No
- Martin Booth – Cambridge Socialists – Yes
- Labour’s Daniel Zeichner has said he is in favour of tuition fees, saying that “I’ve never understood why it is OK for working class people, essentially poor people, to subsidise middle class education”. I think that’s a shocking indictment of the state of the country, and highlights the fact that thirteen years of Zeichner’s new Labour party have left us in a position where entrance to our universities isn’t on the basis of academic merit. Zeichner has said he is opposed to an increase in fees.
- The Conservative’s Nick Hillman has refused to state a position on tuition fees in advance of the results of a review into Higher Education funding; he has said that in his view a Cambridge University student paying £7,000 per year would getting good value for money, yet he has appeared to contradict this saying the moment he wouldn’t support an increase in fees until we know how that money might be spent. He has said he has no problem with a Graduate Tax.
- It is clear the Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert is personally opposed to tuition fees, the question raised by his opponents and others focuses on the details and what the Liberal Democrat policy is. Labour’s Zeichner has noted: “The Liberal Democrats have been in chaos over this policy for the last couple of years and it continues”.
- Tony Juniper of the Green Party has said: “Tuition fees are excluding a large number of people in this country who won’t go to university because they don’t wish to incur the debt”, and has said he would like to see the reintroduction of student grants.
I am passionately opposed to undergraduate tuition fees for UK students doing their first degrees. I think that access to university education ought be on merit, access to university should not be limited to those prepared pay huge fees or get into enormous debt. I also oppose a graduate tax; students shouldn’t be deterred from going to university, considering if that decision might end up costing them dearly for the rest of their lives.
As with many other areas of the public sector the Labour government has pumped huge sums of, in this case public money, and students money, into universities. The big thing this has bought is a huge increase in the number of young people going to university. While I too want to see as many young people as possible going to university – simply expanding the number of places is not in my view the right way to go about it. We’ve got a situation where we’re aiming to get 50% of young people to go to university yet less than 50% get 5 A-C GCSEs. We need to focus on improving education for younger people before we’ve got a base on which to justify such high levels of university education.
It’s important to keep hold of what’s made UK university education great, and what’s made it such a valuable export commodity if we’re going to be able to keep bringing in money from abroad by selling access to it. If we’re going to keep the quality of UK higher education high we need to keep the entry standards high. We also need to keep university education closely related to cutting edge research. University is not just an extension of school. Good quality education isn’t necessarily expensive to provide in many subjects.
Tuition fees were expected to drive up standards in universities; this didn’t happen. Making students “consumers” didn’t work; I think what we need to do is strengthen students’ unions. We need to ensure that students, and staff at universities are free to speak out and free to keep standards high at their institutions.
Many people point to the high cost of undergraduate education at Cambridge University as small group supervisions are very expensive. If graduate researchers, those working towards PhDs were employed (rather than receiving a tax free studentship) and as part of their contract were required to teach that would help enormously as well as solve a wide range of other problems in one go. I think the link between teaching and research ought start at the level of graduate researchers.
High levels of personal debt are a real problem in the UK; massive societal effects as people can’t afford to buy homes, can’t afford to start families. There is a huge imbalance in society with so many younger people in debt, living in inadequate homes, and not being able to live the lives they want to lead. Funding university tuition fully out of general taxation is one way we can help address those problems.
I see scrapping tuition fees as being about investing in young people, investing in the future of the UK and preparing us to compete in the world in the long term.
Views of the Candidates put up by the Main Parties in Cambridge
Despite being an education expert – working for the shadow higher education spokesman – Nick Hillman the Conservative candidate won’t be drawn on his views on tuition fees. He’s saying he’ll wait for the results of the current review into Higher Education Funding. He has said that he feels UK students would be getting good value if they paid £7,000 a year for a Cambridge University education.
Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert is personally strongly opposed to tuition fees. His party though has been inconsistent on the issue and he’s very much a party man. He’s signed up to a pledge saying he’ll support a “fairer alternative” but hasn’t said what that might be. I think a graduate tax might be just as much of a deterrent to good people going to university as high tuition fees, and would also take us away from a meritocracy. I’ve seen that Cambridge University students have recently elected a student union president who supports a graduate tax, so there is some support for that in the city, I don’t think those who voted in that election made the right choice there.
Labour’s Daniel Zeichner is from the party which made a manifesto promise not to bring in tuition fees then did so anyway. He represents the party pouring huge amounts of money into the public sector and not being interested in getting good value in return, he and his party are about expanding participation but without maintaining quality. He has committed not to support an increase in tuition fees if elected, but he has also said he doesn’t think that poor people should subsidise middle class education – I think that’s an astounding view – and doesn’t reflect the reality of society as a whole funding university education on the basis of merit really amounts to.
Tony Juniper of the Greens and the socialists want to go further than scrapping tuition fees and bring back grants. Particularly as they lack a focus on quality and targeting the investment where it will be of most use to society I think their proposals are barmy.
None of the candidates are saying what I want to hear:
- None are focusing on quality in higher education.
- None are focusing on ensuring there’s nothing working to prevent the best people going to university and access to university is genuinely on academic merit.
- None are daring to say that the Labour government’s massive, expensive, expansion of university education has been detrimental to quality and has been carried out before the solid foundation in basic education such a step would have needed was in place.
I’m worried none of the party candidates will be pushing to get the best value for the public money which is invested in higher education, and none are considering what’s best for Cambridge, for Cambridge’s universities and what’s best for the economic future of the UK. Its not scrapping tuition fees which is the economically irresponsible thing to do in my view; I think it would be irresponsible to carrying on subsidising a university education for those who’ve scraped 5 C grade GCSEs and not to focus on meritocracy and excellence.