With the controversial tuition fee vote looming, NUS National President Aaron Porter has hit back at Nick Clegg after accusations from the Deputy Prime Minister that he was 'not being straight' with student protesters over his ideas for higher education reform.
With the controversial tuition fee vote looming, NUS National President Aaron Porter has hit back at Nick Clegg after accusations from the Deputy Prime Minister that he was “not being straight” with student protesters over his ideas for higher education reform.
Responding to a Nick Clegg interview in the The Independent on Sunday, NUS President Aaron Porter has criticised both the Coalition plans for higher education reform and the Deputy Prime Minister’s misrepresentation of the NUS position on the issue. In a letter seen by Left Foot Forward, Porter cites ten reasons why the NUS’ proposals are “fairer and more progressive” than those supported by Clegg.
Mr Porter’s letter begins by focusing on the Coalition’s decision to cut the teaching budget by 80 per cent:
“Your Government’s decision to transfer the whole cost on to the individual through a loans system is the ideological choice of a group who believe that Higher Education should only be available to the richest.”
The letter points out that, “By operating a “fees and loans” scheme instead of graduate tax, it means that the higher payments from richer graduates end up flowing into the universities that are already richest, with the fewest poor students to support, the most endowment funds and the best asset bases.”
Addressing the “regressive” nature of the reforms, Porter explains how 75% of students will pay more under the proposed scheme compared to the NUS’ preferred graduate tax proposal where “earners in the lowest quintile would have paid less than £500 for university; those in the next quintile about half what they do now and those in the middle quintile roughly the same as now.” He points out that supposedly progressive elements of the reforms such as raising the threshold for repaying student loads to £21,000 do not take inflation into consideration, as the threshold will not rise again until 2021. In contrast the NUS plan rises every year in line with inflation.
Responding to Clegg’s argument that “It’s great going on demos and really having a crack at the government of the day”, Porter disagrees that is the reasoning for the protests, “Students are angry about your proposals because they are unfair, ideological and represent a massive betrayal of the students who voted for you.”
Porter refuses to be taken in by the announcement that a £150m scholarship fund will be provided for the poorest students citing the £450m cut in Education Maintenance Allowances:
“We wouldn’t have swapped £450m in maintenance support for the poorest at school and college doing A levels for a third of that in golden ticket partial scholarships to universities. What’s the point in free first years for the poorest if they drop out of college before they get there?”
With mounting pressure on the Deputy Prime Minister from within his own party, Porter’s response could open up even more divides in what is currently an extremely fragmented Liberal Democrat party.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.