UK Parliament to vote on tuition fee rise on Thursday
Sunday, December 5, 2010
The controversial plan to raise university tuition fees in England and Wales will be voted on in the on Thursday, December 9. The policy has been the cause of protests across the United Kingdom by students, some of which have turned violent. It has also been a source of considerable criticism and political difficulties for the Liberal Democrats and has raised questions as to the long-term viability of the Coalition government.
The new policy on tuition fees will allow universities to double the current tuition fees from £3,290 per year to around £6,000 per year, as well as allowing some universities to get special approval from the Office For Fair Access (OFFA) to raise their fees to £9,000 per year. If passed, the new fee structure will apply starting in the academic year of 2012/2013. The vote on Thursday will only be on the fee rise, with other matters being voted on in the new year following publication of a new higher education white paper.
In addition to increasing fees, the policy will increase the payment threshold at which payment is made. It is currently set at £15,000 and will rise to £21,000, but the interest rate will also rise. It is currently 1.5% but will now vary from between 0% and 3% plus inflation (using the Retail Price Index).
The fee increase follows the publication of an Peter Mandelson, the former Business Secretary. Before the election, two main options were mooted for funding reform in higher education: either an increase in tuition fees or a . The Browne Review endorsed the former and the findings of the Review form the basis of the government's policy. The graduate tax was supported by the Liberal Democrats before the election, and in the Labour leadership elections it was supported by and the winner of the leadership election, .by Lord Browne, former chief executive of BP, a process started by
Conservative members of the Coalition intend to vote for the reform, and the Labour opposition have been vociferous critics of the rise in fees, despite the previous government's introduction of top-up fees. The Liberal Democratic members of the Coalition have been left in a politically difficult position regarding the fee hike and have been target of much criticism from protesters. Liberal Democrats have opposed the rise in tuition fees: their party manifesto included a commitment to ending tuition fees within six years, and many signed a pledge organised by theto not vote for any increase in tuition fees.
The Coalition agreement allows Liberal Democrats to opt to abstain on votes for a number of policies including tuition fees. Many Liberal Democrats are expected to abstain, and a few MPs have stated that they will vote against it including former party leader Sir, and the recently elected party president , as well as a number of Liberal Democrat back-benchers. Liberal Democrat party leaders have said that they will act collectively, but the BBC have said senior Liberal Democrats have admitted in private that government whips will not be able to force all Liberal Democrats to vote for the policy.
On Tuesday, the Liberal Democrats parliamentary party will meet in the Commons to decide on their collective position. If all ministers decide to vote for the policy, it will probably pass, but if only cabinet ministers (and maybe parliamentary private secretaries) vote for the policy, there is considerable risk of it not passing. If the Coalition does not manage to get the policy through Parliament, it will fuel doubts about the continued effectiveness and viability of the government.
How deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and business secretary Vince Cable vote has been of considerable controversy. Although under the Coalition agreement, they are allowed to abstain, suggestions of doing so have prompted criticism. It was suggested last week that Cable may abstain even though as business secretary he is directly responsible for higher education policy, and has been heavily involved in designing the proposals. Cable has said that Liberal Democrat support of the tuition fee changes has allowed them to push it in a more "progressive" direction.
Cable has now decided that he will vote for the policy, and argues that the policy has "a lot of protection for students from low income backgrounds and graduates who have a low income or take time out for family". He also believes "there's common consensus that the system we've devised is a progressive one".
"Dr Cable has performed so many U-turns over the issue of university funding that he is spinning on his heels," saidpresident . "That may stand him in good stead with the judges but the electorate will see it differently."
Former deputy prime minister Twitter that "On tuition fees we've noticed Vince Cable's remarkable transformation in the last few weeks from stalling to Mr In Between"—a reference to a previous attack Prescott made on Gordon Brown as having transformed from "Stalin to ".joked on
Onthis week, Liberal Democrat treasury secretary also confirmed he is prepared to vote for the policy but delegated the question to the meeting of Liberal Democrats on Tuesday.
The politics of the tuition fee debate may also affect the by-election taking place in Oldham East and Saddleworth following the removal of, where Liberal Democrat and Conservative candidates will both be standing for the first by-election following the formation of the Coalition government.
Opposition to the policy has become the focus for a large number of protests across the country by both current university students, many school pupils and political allies of the student movement.
On November 10, between 30,000 and 52,000 protesters from across Britain marched through central London in a demonstration organised by theand the , which represents teachers and lecturers in further and higher education. At the November 10 protest, a number of people occupied , an office block which houses the Conservative Party. Fifty people were arrested and fourteen were injured. NUS president Aaron Porter condemned the attack and said it was caused by "those who are here to cause trouble", and that the actions of a "minority of idiots" shouldn't "undermine 50,000 who came to make a peaceful protest".
Following the November 10 march, other protests have taken place across the country including an occupation at the, a sit-in at the John Owens Building in Manchester, and a demonstration at the . A protest was also run outside the offices of where Nick Clegg—who was giving a lecture inside the building—was executed in effigy while students protested "Nick Clegg, shame on you, shame on you for turning blue" (blue is the colour of the Conservative Party).
On November 24, a large number of protests took place across the country including a mass walk-out from universities and schools organised on Facebook, numerous university occupations, and demonstrations in Manchester, Cambridge, Birmingham, Leeds, Brighton and Cardiff, and a well-publicised occupation of .
In London, a protest was planned to march down Whitehall to Parliament, but police held protesters inuntil they eventually broke free and ran around in a game of "cat and mouse" along the side streets around Charing Cross Road, Covent Garden and Picadilly Circus.
Simon Hardy from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts described the police response including the controversial 'kettling' of protesters as "absolutely outrageous". Green MPraised the police response including the use of kettling in the House of Commons and stated that it was "neither proportionate, nor, indeed, effective".
On November 30, protests continued in London culminating in 146 arrests of protesters in Trafalgar Square, and protests in Cardiff, Cambridge, Newcastle, Bath, Leeds, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Belfast, Brighton, Manchester and Bristol. Protesters in Sheffield attempted to invade and occupy Nick Clegg's constituency office. Occupations of university buildings started or continued at University College London, Newcastle University, Cambridge University and Nottingham University, as well as council buildings in Oxford and Birmingham.
A "day of action" is being planned on December 8, the day before the Commons vote, by the National Union of Students.
- "MPs set for crucial vote on tuition fees on 9 December" — , December 2, 2010
- "Q&A: University funding" — , November 29, 2010
- "Commons set for tuition fees vote before end of year" — , November 25, 2010
- Politics of Liberal Democrat vote
- David Batty. "Cable under renewed fire over U-turn on tuition fees" — , December 4, 2010
- "Vince Cable to vote for tuition fee rise" — , December 4, 2010
- Andrew Sparrow. "Phil Woolas loses bid to overturn court decision removing him from parliament" — , December 3, 2010
- Nicholas Watt. "Vince Cable: It's my duty to vote for tuition fee rise" — , December 3, 2010
- "Vince Cable may abstain from vote on tuition fees" — , November 30, 2010
- Hélène Mulholland. "Vince Cable may abstain in tuition fees vote" — , November 30, 2010
- Justin Parkinson. "Tuition fees: Could recall powers unseat Nick Clegg's MPs?" — , November 30, 2010
- Protests and occupations
- Sean Coughlan. "Students hold a third day of tuition fee protests" — , November 30, 2010
- Heather Sharp. "Students march... and march... in central London" — , November 30, 2010
- Sean Coughlan. "What's it like inside a university occupation?" — , November 30, 2010
- Adam Gabbatt. "Student protests live coverage" — , November 30, 2010
- Hannah Richardson. "The students who cut class to protect education" — , November 30, 2010
- "Student fees protests: Sit-ins continue through the weekend" — , November 28, 2010
- Jerome Taylor. "The new battle lines of protest" — , November 26, 2010
- "Second day of student protests - how the demonstrations happened" — , November 24, 2010