Higher education proposals – why I voted in favour

Yesterday I voted in favour of the Government’s proposals for funding higher education, and I’d like to set out my reasons for doing so.

Ideally, I would like university tuition costs to be paid from general taxation. Yet we’re facing a situation that is far from ideal. The nation’s finances are in a mess, with a £155 billion budget deficit and national debt rocketing above £1 trillion. Bringing the deficit back under control means hard choices about where to make cuts.

While the higher education proposals are not as good as would have been achieved by a Liberal Democrat government, Vince Cable has worked tirelessly within the coalition for the best possible outcome for students, universities and graduates in the context of difficult spending cuts.

We have created a fairer, progressive repayment system. We have also stopped Conservative plans for unlimited fees.

- By raising the repayment threshold, every graduate will pay less per month – for example a graduate earning £25,000 will be paying £30 a month, instead of £75 a month under the current system.

- We are scrapping upfront tuition fees for part-time students – 40% of undergraduates study part-time

- We are introducing tough conditions on access for poorer students as well as a £150million National Scholarship Scheme.

- Lower-earning graduates will pay less overall than currently – after 30 years any outstanding balance is written off.

- We are taking Labour’s flat rate poll tax for students and replacing it with a fairer alternative – the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has confirmed that our new system is more progressive than the one we inherited from Labour, and more progressive than what the Browne review recommended.

With fewer than 1 in 10 MPs, we can’t deliver on everything we promised to do as a Liberal Democrat government.

We are delivering on many manifesto commitments, including the four key policies on the front of our manifesto – the themes we returned to time and time again during the campaign both nationally and here in East Dunbartonshire: fairer taxation by raising the income tax threshold to £10,000, extra money for the poorest pupils, wide-ranging political reform and building a new, green and fair economy.

The government’s proposals ensure that despite the difficult financial circumstances, universities will still continue to have secure funding. Graduates will contribute more only when they are earning more, in a progressive repayment system. We have improved the situation for part-time students, poorer students and poorer graduates. That’s why I voted in favour last night.

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