Clegg still trying to redefine ‘progressive’

Nick Clegg is still trying to claim the tuition fees u-turn is a "progressive" move, even as fees look set to triple next year, writes UCU gen sec Sally Hunt.

Sally Hunt is the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU)

The word progressive is one that seems to have lost any meaning since the birth of the coalition government. The chancellor is probably most to blame after he had the nerve to call his spending plans progressive, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. However, Nick Clegg and David Cameron have been quite happy to pick up the chancellor’s progressive baton and use the word whenever they feel the need.

The Liberal Democrat leader has been at it in Oldham and Saddleworth this week when trying to defend the coalition’s plans to triple university fees.

His efforts to paint the move as progressive are particularly embarrassing when put against the excellent arguments he made earlier this year about why the current fees are unfair and any move to increase them wrong.

What Mr Clegg, and the many other millionaires in the cabinet, fails to understand is the impact that the larger price tag will have for thousands of hard-working students and families across the country. Parallels can quite easily be drawn here with the laughably out of touch Chris Patten. Patten said he favoured raising fees because parents already paid so much for their children’s education through school fees.

Making choices about the cost of education may never have been an issue for the ex-Westminster schoolboy deputy prime minister or his old Etonian prime minister. However, for the vast majority of families in the country who have never paid school fees, the price of a degree will be a huge deciding factor if their children wish to pursue a university degree. Do we want potential medics opting to study IT because they see it as a cheaper option?

No matter how many times the government tries to paint its plans as progressive, there are no winners under its plans to raise the cap on fees. Allowing fees to rise to £9,000 just paves the way for the government to brutally slash universities’ teaching budgets. The extra fees students pay will simply recoup the money the government is taking away in budget cuts.

Despite the government claiming that only in exceptional circumstances will universities be allowed to charge more than £6,000 a year, we found that universities would have to charge an average fee of close to £7,000 just to maintain current funding levels.

Nick Clegg can bandy the word progressive around all he likes, but the general public are not stupid. This week we have seen a record number of applications to university as people try to get in before his ‘progressive’ system of tripling fees and increasing debt.

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23 Responses to “Clegg still trying to redefine ‘progressive’”

  1. Broken OfBritain

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg still trying to redefine "progressive": writes @UCU general secretary Sally Hunt

  2. gemma tumelty

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg still trying to redefine "progressive": writes @UCU general secretary Sally Hunt

  3. UCU

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg still trying to redefine "progressive": writes @UCU general secretary Sally Hunt

  4. Gary Banham

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg still trying to redefine "progressive": writes @UCU general secretary Sally Hunt

  5. Dan Ashley

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg still trying to redefine "progressive": writes @UCU general secretary Sally Hunt

  6. Jose Aguiar

    Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU on Nick Clegg's attempt to redefine progressive

  7. NUT Young Teachers

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg still trying to redefine "progressive": writes @UCU general secretary Sally Hunt

  8. Cheadle Labour

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg still trying to redefine 'progressive' He prob thinks abandoning child poverty is 'progressive'

  9. EB

    While I think that slashing university funding is a scandal, comparing the proposed tuition fees proposal to private school fees seems a little misleading. As far as I know, private schools expect to be paid upfront by the family. The government’s proposal involves a university system which is free at the point of use (the families don’t have to pay upfront fees), and it is the graduate ex-student who pays the fees back once they start working. I still feel the taxpayer should foot the bill as used to be the case, and the Lib Dem U-turn is a different matter, but since both the NUS and Labour favour a graduate tax (ie: the graduate ex-student pays the cost back once they start working), it seems to me that the actual proposal is pretty much what is on offer from everyone.

  10. Stephen W

    Urhhhh. The IFS declared the new fee system more progressive than the old one, under the definition of progressive widely agreed.

    Now you may say you still don’t like it, or you still think it is a bad policy. But it is more progressive than the old system.

    It seems like you are the one trying to redefine progressive here.

  11. John Illingworth

    RT @nutyoungteacher: RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg still trying to redefine "progressive": writes @UCU general secretary S …

  12. Leeds University UCU

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg still trying to redefine "progressive": writes @UCU general secretary Sally Hunt

  13. Tom White

    Whatever the truth about how ‘progressive’ the government’s plan (or “plan”) for universities is, there is no doubt that they are trying to redefine what the word means, or at least cloud its meaning. This is naked opportunism, just like Tony Blair trying to claim to be the ‘One Nation’ party – or, if anything, a bit worse, since the meaning of ‘progressive’ is clearer. Cameron, Clegg and Osborne’s attempts at claiming the budget is ‘progressive’ are laughable…

  14. Michael Carr

    RT @leftfootfwd: Clegg still trying to redefine 'progressive'

  15. William Cullerne Bown

    @Stephen W – I’m not sure what your “widely agreed” definition is of progressivity. The IFS actually said students from the poorest 30 per cent of households by parental income would pay *more* than they do under the current system. See the section on progressivity at

  16. Mark Mills

    Ms Hunt seems – without realising it – to be actually agreeing with Clegg about the meaning of progressive. The DPM made the distinction between “old progressives” focussed on income inequality and “new progressives” who worry more about social mobility. For the reasons outlined in the post above Stephen W, the changes will likely reduce income inequality but Ms Hunt’s criticisms are largely focused on the risk that by deterring people from going to University, higher fees will reduce social mobility.

  17. Mr. Sensible

    Sally this proposal just typpifies the state the Lib Dems are in.

    2 points to make to add to your argument:

    1. Sorry to keep returning to this but, as I think Million pointed out, when you say that no one wins, we can add the taxpayer and the public finances in to that as well, for reasons which I won’t bore readers with again.

    2. You talk about Universities needing to increase fees to about £7000 to cover costs. Not only do the government’s ‘access’ proposals lack detail, but as I understand it the cuts to teaching grants are coming in to effect a year before any increase in fees can take effect.

    Is that correct, and if so, how do you think institutions will deal with that?

  18. William Cullerne Bown

    @Mark Mills There’s nothing in @Stephen W’s comment to justify the huge claim – not ever made as far as I can recall by Cable or Willetts – that the reforms will increase social mobility. With regards to old and new progressives – who cares? To take this kind of language seriously is to elevate the attitudes of fashion above serious critical thought.

  19. Look Left – Former Labour MP sent down for expenses fraud | Left Foot Forward

    […] Writing on Left Foot Forward, general secretary of the University and College Union Sally Hunt said: “His efforts to paint the move as progressive are particularly embarrassing when put against […]

  20. Stephen W

    1. I never claimed the changes will improve social mobility.

    2. The definition of progressive is simple. Screws the rich more than the Poor. Hence a rise in income tax is progressive, because is screws rich and poor, but it just screws the rich more. This is the definition under which an increase in income tax or NI is more progressive than an increase in VAT.

    The rise in tuition fees, along with the changes to thresholds and student support for people from lower incomes make this policy more progressive than the previous policy. People on the lowest incomes pay less, people on higher incomes pay progressively more.

    You may still think it is a bad policy, you may still think it needs to be changed. But is is more progressive than the previous policy, this is just a fact.

    If you dislike this fact you should probably find some other words in your political vocabulary to describe this policy rather than just using progressive to mean ‘something I like’ and not progressive to mean ‘something I don’t like’.

  21. Francis Irving

    @William Cullerne Bown – so your two definitions of progressive are 1) progressive in terms of the wealth of the person at the time they have to actually pay the money, 2) progressive in terms of the wealth of the person’s family when they were younger, even though they are much richer when they actually pay the money.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m increasingly in favour of a simple graduate taxer (fairer, because it means *all* graduates, including ones like me who got their education for free decades ago, contribute).

    But surely that would be just the same as the Government’s system, in that it would be progressive version 1) but not progressive version 2)?

  22. William Cullerne Bown

    @Francis Irving Yes, although I would add a wrinkle, which is that it’s not the definition of “progressive” that is being debated but the question of what is the relevant definition of “rich” and “poor”.

    This is why @Stephen W’s points are misleading. By flattening out this distinction he is able to say the new system is more progressive than the old one, and that means it is better for poor people, and that implies it is better for students from poor families. But it’s not. Prospective students from the poorest 30 per cent of households will pay *more* than now. It’s not me that’s abusing the language here.

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