Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tuition fee debate in Britain

I’m just tuning into the debate on tuition hikes in Britain (set to treble the sums students will be paying for tuition). It looks like Labour is playing the class war card. David Blunkett (a former eduction secretary) has just accused Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (the Liberal Democrat leader who is set to break his party’s pledge to seek to eliminate tuition fees) of “not knowing anything about social mobility”. This incensed some Tories, who are trying to bellow over Blunkett that they know as much as he does about waking up in the morning to go to work.

Blunkett is making silly attacks and talking about what Labour did in 1997 rather than focussing as sharply as he should on the matter at hand. This is typical of a lot of New Labourites, who see every speech in the Commons as an opportunity to restate the legacy of the Blair years. But he is right to say that the decision is “A value laden, ideological argument [sic]”.

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Just a moment ago, John Denham, who resigned in protest from a Labour Government over the war in Iraq and who is now shadowing Vince Cable, who has responsibility for universities, made a passionate plea to LibDems and Conservatives to vote their consciences rather than party-lines.

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Greg Mulholland, a Liberal Democrat, is on his feet saying that he thinks that the argument is a bad one, and that more time needs to be given for debate before such a paradigm-shifting vote should be undertaken. He has also just said that he’s not opposing his party leadership and the government simply because he signed a pledge. He is also opposing it because he doesn’t think that £9,000 of fees is a good idea.

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Now Sam Gyimah (Conservative) is playing the blame-game, and is arguing that the Conservatives have been locked in by Labour’s financial policies. Like many Tories, he is raising the spectre of a false alternative—that fewer people attend university. “High-participation, high-quality” university is the catchword. Gyimah also made the absurd point that the high rates are a good thing because they shift the burden away from parents! But the Conservatives are cheering him because he is one of only a few minority Tory MPs.

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The problem with today’s debate is that Labour’s alternative is the graduate tax, which like the incredibly high fee hikes, transforms higher education into a product to be sold to those who can afford it.

I'll write more later.

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