Theo Scott is proposing the ‘Tuition Fees’ policy motion at Liberal Youth Winter Conference in Edinburgh.
It might appear odd at first to see a Scottish student proposing that Liberal Youth adopts support for university tuition fees across the UK. If I had my way I’d end up with a lot more coming out of my pay packet when I graduate. Why would I seek to impose upon myself, and thousands of students like me, such a burden? I have been on a journey with this policy – when first applying to, and then attending, university, I felt firmly in favour of free tuition.
Firstly, and quite frankly, I’m going into an industry that will allow me to live very well. Why should I not contribute to the cost of an education that has allowed me such a privilege? I find it deeply unfair to ask every taxpayer to wholly cover the cost of my education when I will be the primary beneficiary of it. I initially believed that the extra taxes I would pay as a result of a high salary were sufficient to account for this.
But I finally arrived at my current position as a result of seeing the dire state of affairs that has arisen in Scotland today, and how it compares to the rest of the UK. Far from being “free”, the tuition fee policy here comes at a severe cost. Scotland has seen 152,000 college places cut since 2010, funding for local authorities which run most schools slashed, the attainment gap between rich and poor as wide as ever, and the number of children from poor backgrounds going to university remaining stubbornly static. Contrast this with England which has the Liberal Democrat’s pupil premium working wonders for the attainment gap, and has attendance at university among poorer students rising at a healthy rate as a result of reforms we achieved in government to the loans and bursaries system. In fact, you are now twice as likely to attend university in England if you come from a poor background than you are in Scotland.
Far from being a policy that puts off poor children from achieving their potential, tuition fees have allowed the targeting of resources where they are really needed to achieve social mobility, directly to schools. What good is free university tuition if our children don’t get the education they need to even apply to university, never mind attend?
A fair, progressive policy would ensure that those who gain the most benefit from university contribute the most to its funding. It would ensure that the revenue generated would go straight to those most in need, just like our pupil premium. Liberal Democrats need to finally confront the spectre that has been hanging over us for the last five years, and adopt a university tuition policy that is just in principle and in practice.