Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Vince Cable sets out his case........

Vince Cable has been in the news this past few days....!!

Below, he today sets out his rationale for the proposals that he outlined yesterday in the House of Commons. These proposals are for England only, but we face the same issues up here, and what happens south of the border will inevitably focus discussion here as well, not least because students on both sides of the border will be looking at the relative attractiveness of the funding arrangements available in both countries. These proposals are therefore of real interest to us. Interestingly, Labour are all over the place on this, and the SNP are keeping their cards close to their chests, trying to pretend that there might be other "uniquely-Scottish" ways of doing things. Alas, the options are limited. This is now sure to be a massive issue going in to the Holyrood campaign next year in Scotland, and if there is indeed a "uniquely Scottish" solution, the pressure will now be on our politicians to come up with that. Scottish Liberal Democats, as you might imagine, will be right at the heart of that discussion.

"Taking decisions about Higher Education funding isn’t easy, particularly in times of fiscal constraint. And I know that some of what was announced yesterday will be difficult for some party members.But in supporting the thrust of Lord Browne’s review I believe this Government is taking the difficult decisions needed to deliver a fair deal to both universities and students.

We have obtained a much more progressive system of payment for graduate contributions than currently exists.I will outline what the Government will put forward following the spending review next week, but Lord Browne’s proposals would be a major reform of higher education funding. It effectively replaces Labour’s unfair one-size fits-all formula with a fairer plan which reflects students’ different circumstances - the poorest 30% of graduates will pay less than they do now. No one would pay back a penny until they are earning close to the average salary and those who earn more from their degree will pay back more.

I have welcomed plans that will scrap up-front costs for part-time students, making a valuable element of our education available to all and ending the disgraceful situation in which they were treated unfairly; paying upfront.In the near future I will come forward with further detailed proposals which will make it attractive for students from families of modest means to go to university.

As in the report, we are considering a threshold of £7,000 for university fees, as this is the only realistic way to secure the funding our universities desperately need. Many universities and colleges may well decide to charge less than that, since there is clearly scope for greater efficiency and innovation in the way universities operate.

Two year ordinary degrees are one approach that should be considered.Lord Browne suggests there should be circumstances under which universities can price their courses above this threshold. He suggests this would be conditional on universities demonstrating that funds would be invested in scholarships and bursaries for students from less privileged backgrounds and in raising the quality of teaching and learning. The Government is considering this aspect of the review carefully.

I have explained in a previous email to members why I did not think a pure Graduate Tax proposal would be fair or would work. However I am determined to make those who can afford to pay more do so and that those who do less well paid jobs pay less. At my request as a Liberal Democrat Minister, Lord Browne has come up with a specific proposal to lift the threshold at which repayment of student loans starts to £21,000 and to introduce a variable rate of interest on loans to protect low earning graduates.

The Government will go further than the Browne recommendations and come forward with proposals for exempting the poorest students from graduate contributions for some or all of their studies. Making university accessible for all is a key priority for this Government as part of our drive for social mobility. And we are considering how to discourage very affluent families and graduates buying their way out of the system.

The Coalition Government’s proposals will create a level playing field for part-time students, help those from less privileged backgrounds get to universities and ensure that those with the broadest shoulders contribute more. It is a fair and progressive policy that will build an equitable Higher Education system to last."

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