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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