Just because a nettle is thorny doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be grasped. It is commendable, therefore, that a few months ago an article appeared on the Libertine. It argued that the status quo on tuition fees should be backed in our next election manifesto. This is my riposte. In my opinion, our current policy of gradual abolition should be retained in 2015. It will be a difficult policy to argue with a straight face, but it is still the right one.
We can holler from the rooftops about how much worse the system would be without our influence, about how much worse it would be if the slavishly free-market instincts of the Tories were given full rein to wreak havoc in our higher education sector. We can also shout about the positive aspects of the loan repayment system compared to the rather nasty, regressive one which we inherited from Labour. But we must never, never, argue that tuition fees are a good thing per se. Because, quite frankly, they are not.
It is somewhat unfashionable among Liberal Democrats to quote Edmund Burke. But his statement that ‘society is a contract between the past, the present and those yet unborn’ is a pertinent one. Glibly loading up future generations of graduates (even the wealthy ones) with gargantuan debts in order to sort out our own financial mess is immoral. It is not only that the very idea of student debts – even if you don’t necessarily have to pay them off – can put people off university for good. It is also that the very idea of student debts is wrong.
As Liberals, we do not see education as a commodity, something to be bought and sold like a second hand Ford Cortina. We see it as a social good. A doctor studies for a medical degree in order to benefit society as a whole. If he cures my ills, then I think it’s fair that I should chip in to fund his degree. Let his education be free. He, or she, will contribute to the collective kitty via the British system of progressive taxation. Is not that enough?
You do not need reminding that we’ve messed up over tuition fees. We have hesitated. We have deviated. We must now put that behind us and repeat once more what we have said for years: that the millstone of tuition fees round the neck of students must go. And let’s not rely on Ed Miliband to do it for us- he said he was going to have them at £6,000 under a Labour Government. Talk about the red flame of socialist courage- there’s barely enough fire in that idea to light the candles on young Sam Miliband’s birthday cake.
Reece Edmends is a Liberal Youth member in Staffordshire. He formerly studied at Newcastle-under-Lyme School and will be taking up a place at university in 2013. He enjoys politics, literature, history, music and golf.
This article is solely the view of the author and should not be taken as the views of Liberal Youth, the Liberal Democrats, nor the editorship of the Libertine.