In My View - 22nd February 2018

Parliament returns this week with the welcome news that the Government is launching a comprehensive review into higher education funding. This will focus on, but not be limited to, the whole system of loans and tuition fees which have become something of a political football in recent months.

I will be contributing fully to the review and I know that there are some very strongly held views on the topic. The Labour Party is committed to abolishing fees but, as is increasingly the case, offers no suggestions as to how it would tackle some of the issues that arise or, indeed, pay for them. Since their introduction in 1998, tuition fees have allowed a huge increase in the number of young people able to get a university education. The system of loans has improved access for students from less wealthy backgrounds too. The old system wasn’t fair. Taxpayers from across society funded a small number of relatively middle-class students to get degrees that would most likely increase their own earning potential later in life. However, as it has grown, some aspects of the loan based system seem to have become unfair too and need to change.

People are rightly put off by the terminology around loans and debt. In reality, student loans are not loans in any real sense because there is no expectation that they will all be repaid. Similarly the debt is not the same as a bank loan or credit card balance. However, if what has developed is a graduate tax then it is time to restructure things and look at that on its own terms. If you go to university, which is free at the time, and go on to earn a high amount then it does seem reasonable that you could contribute an affordable amount to pay back into the system. In the meantime, interest rates on existing loans have to be reduced to no more than the Government borrowing rate and I will continue to push for this.

Real choice for students is a great thing and I am particularly keen that we continue to develop skills based courses and technical qualifications. Yeovil College continues to impress with innovative ideas and I will be meeting soon with the new Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, to discuss our local provision further. The current Garden Town proposals could support new facilities for a step change in skills development building on our existing base. What is vital is that across the board we aim for the highest possible standards. We have some of the very best universities in the world and this review must allow for no dilution of that quality. With the right changes we can get back to a system of wonderful opportunities and move past the current ideological battle. I would be very interested to hear more opinions on this issue.

As always, if you would like to get in touch with your views, if you have an issue I can help with or if you would like to make an appointment at one of my regular advice surgeries, please do email or call 01935314321