Double debt bombshell of Cable’s HE reforms

The OBR yesterday showed that the Higher Education reforms will increase net debt by £13bn. The findings contradict Vince Cable's claims that the policy switch was motivated by the "current economic climate".

Our guest writer is Andrew Harding who blogs at 2me2you.

Analysis by Left Foot Forward and on my 2me2you blog has shown previously that the implementation of the Browne review is driven more by ideology than a need to reduce “national debt [in the] national interest“. The BBC has been virtually alone in the mainstream media in reporting that “University fees reforms ‘will not save money’“.

Now the Office for Budget Responsibility have confirmed what many outside the mainstream media have long thought: that the shortfall in higher education funding over this parliament cannot possibly be met by the outcome of the Browne Review’s recommendations. In particular, the immediate cut to funding and the retrospective repayments mean an increase in net debt from 2012-13.

The OBR findings directly contradict Vince Cable’s remarks that the Liberal Democrat’s policy switch was dictated by a need to bring down costs. Responding to the publication of the Browne Review on October 12th, the Business Secretary said:

“My own party consistently opposed graduate contributions, but in the current economic climate we accept that the policy is simply no longer feasible.”

The OBR yesterday stated that:

“The Spending Review announced a £2.9 billion real terms cut in overall funding for higher education by 2014-15, with direct grants substituted for higher fees funded by increased loans to students. This proposal will therefore increase the value of the loans that the Government makes to students to fund tuition fees. Such loans are classified in the public finances as a financial transaction.

“The additional cash needed to fund the loans, net of repayments, increases the Government’s cash requirement (CGNCR) in any year and adds to the stock of public sector net debt (PSND), which is measured on a cash basis. However, financial transactions do not score directly in accrued measures of the deficit such as net borrowing, because the Government’s overall net liability position has not changed. For the November forecast the OBR has scrutinised and certified estimates of the additional loans that have been produced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) for England. As the table shows, the impact on the CGNCR is estimated to reach £5.6 billion by 2015-16, cumulatively adding £13 billion to [Public Sector Net Debt] over the forecast period.”

Not many can reasonably suggest that graduates should make no contribution to their studies whatsoever. However, the shift in burden to the graduate paying the majority is by any reasonable standard unconscionable. It is a stark reminder that the government is passing the burden for a forward thinking and progressive society on to those citizens that can afford it. So much for the big society, perhaps “there is no such thing as society” after all.

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