Tuition fees – what is an MP’s promise worth?

Nick Clegg and Cambridge MP Julian Huppert pledging to oppose any rise in tuition fees in February this year

Photograph by NUS Press Office

There’s been an interesting debate over on our Facebook wall about the Browne report into higher education funding. It’s worth reading for yourself, but it’s fair to say lots of us feel there are two important issues at stake here.

The first is the question of what it means for an MP to make a promise before an election. Is Vince Cable’s claim that it’s no longer valid because of the deficit defensible?  The pledge which all Lib Dem MPs signed was pretty explicit and very recent. Many of us find it hard to accept that an MP should be able to change a key election position so soon afterwards. The issue of how easy it is for MPs to break promises once they are elected is one which 38 Degrees members have been raising for some time, through our campaign for a Recall Law.

Secondly, it has implications for higher education itself. Is a free market in higher education desirable? Is it fair to place so much of the burden for paying on students when so many other bits of society, like business, rely on the training that university provides.  Why were other options such as the graduate tax so quickly dismissed? Many of us seem to share concerns of the National Union of Students at the way policy seems to be headed and impact for poorer students.

We are still to see final proposals and still don’t know what Lib Dem MPs will do- it does that a fair few seem willing to rebel in order to keep their promise.  38 Degrees is in touch with NUS, who we’ve worked with before on this. hopefully our style of people powered campaigning can make sure neither of these issues brushed under the carpet.