Cameron fails to retract claim regulator will be able to cut fees

David Cameron failed to answer Ed Miliband's questions on tuition fees and the fair access regulator at Prime Minister's Questions today, reports Shamik Das.

David Cameron failed to answer Ed Miliband’s questions on tuition fees and the fair access regulator at Prime Minister’s Questions today – and once again failed to admit that the Office for Fair Access (Offa) has no power to curb fees, a point he has repeatedly made in the past and which was further undermined at the weekend with Offa’s assistant director saying he had no plans to stop any university charging the fees they wish.

Here is a transcript of the key exchange:

Ed Miliband: “We know the majority of universities are proposing to charge £9,000 per year can the prime minister tell us how many of them, he expects, will have their proposed fees cut by the Office for Fair Access?”

David Cameron: “That decision will depend on the Office for Fair Access, but the honourable gentleman talks about broken promises the fact is it was the last government that introduced tuition fees and top up fees…”

Miliband: “Mr Speaker, once again he doesn’t answer the question. We know, we know from the Office for Fair Access that they are not going to cut the fees of the universities, the assistant director said at the weekend:

“We are not a fee pricing regulator; that is not our role. [If an institution wishes to charge a fee it has to have an accurate access agreement in place and we do have greater expectations the higher the fee.] We wouldn’t say to an institution we would only allow a fee of ‘X’ or ‘Y’.”

“So won’t the prime minister admit that on top of a broken promise not to raise tuition fees, and a broken promise that £9,000 would be the exception. He’s now breaking another promise on capping excessive fees.”

Cameron: “The fact is we are going to have to wait till July, until the access regulator, but let me make this point to the honourable gentleman: degrees haven’t suddenly started to cost seven, eight or nine thousand pounds, degrees have always cost that much, the question is who is going to pay for them? We say successful graduates should pay for them earning over £21,000 rather than taxpayers many of whom didn’t go to university…”

Watch the exchange in full:

Cameron last mentioned Offa as recently as the March 30th PMQs when he claimed, again falsely, again in answer to Miliband:

“…the Office for Fair Access will decide whether universities can go to that £9,000 threshold. Very tough rules have been published and placed in the House for people to see.”

Yet, in addition to the comments of Offa assistant director David Barrett last week, quoted by Miliband, as Left Foot Forward has repeatedly reported, the head of Offa, Sir Martin Harris, has said:

“The Treasury made assumptions, and one of the reasons for the delay in the letter of guidance to me… is that they thought that Offa was going to be in a position to have legal powers to impose certain fee levels.

“How they came to that view I cannot say because it was obvious to me from day one that [offa] didn’t [have such authority]. Now the government is in some difficulty in limiting expenditure to the levels that the Treasury has assumed.

“It would be fair to say that as of today, there isn’t a solution – but there will be a solution because, in the end, the Treasury always wins.”

Small wonder then that the coalition’s tuition fees policy was described last month as “shambolic”, “backfiring”, and “a connoisseur’s cock-up”.

• See also:

The economic madness of imposing £9k tuition fees – March 28th

The idea £9k fees would be the exception was always a pipe-dream – March 2nd

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14 Responses to “Cameron fails to retract claim regulator will be able to cut fees”

  1. Simon HB

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron fails to retract claim regulator will be able to cut fees: http://bit.ly/jOhTgU reports @ShamikDas #PMQs

  2. Ma

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron fails to retract claim regulator will be able to cut fees: http://bit.ly/jOhTgU reports @ShamikDas #PMQs

  3. Arts Emergency

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron fails to retract claim regulator will be able to cut fees http://bit.ly/kYanf1 – worrying lack of action at OFFA…

  4. Qamar Riaz

    Cameron fails to retract claim regulator will be able to cut fees http://bit.ly/kYanf1

  5. Public University

    RT: Cameron fails to retract claim regulator (OFFA) will be able to cut uni fees: http://bit.ly/jOhTgU @ShamikDas #PMQs @leftfootfwd

  6. Julian

    Is this the tuition fees policy recommended by the Browne review, which was set up by Labour and run by Lord Browne, said to be ” Tony Blair’s favourite businessman”? Wasn’t it the Browne review which suggested a £9,000 maximum and failed to spot that most Universities would charge the maximum?

    I don’t like the new fees but I have difficulty imagining that Labour would have ignored its own review’s recommendations and done any different.

  7. Goldsmiths UCU

    RT @artsemergency: RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron fails to retract claim regulator will be able to cut fees http://bit.ly/kYanf1 – worrying la …

  8. Mr. Sensible

    Julian, the fact is that the Coalition changed the context in which that review was operating by slashing teaching budgets by 80%.

    The Coalition’s record on tuition fees is made up of broken promice after broken promice after broken promice.

    The Lib Dems said last May that they would not increase tuition fees (they have), Vince Cable was floating the idea of a graduate tax as late as last August (it went), Nick Clegg said that £9000 would be the exception (it’s not), and finally they said the OFFA would have power to stop institutions charging £9000 (it doesn’t).

    And Cameron talks about cutting the contribution made by taxpayers, but forgets that this is in fact increasing shortterm costs since the lones are funded by the government, a situation made worse if a lot of students default.

    The government has made a mess and the taxpayer is picking up the tab.

  9. Robert

    If Labour had not brought in tuitions fee’s I wonder where we be now, £3,000 a year

  10. lesa

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron fails to retract claim regulator will be able to cut fees: http://bit.ly/jOhTgU reports @ShamikDas #PMQs

  11. yorkierosie

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron fails to retract claim regulator will be able to cut fees: http://bit.ly/jOhTgU reports @ShamikDas #PMQs

  12. wonkhe

    RT @public_uni: RT: Cameron fails to retract claim regulator (OFFA) will be able to cut uni fees: http://bit.ly/jOhTgU @ShamikDas #PMQs …

  13. Ken McKenzie

    Julian,

    That’s the Review that was explicitly promised in the 2004 Education Act as a condition for bringing in fees in the first place.

    It’s generally considered to be a good thing to Review significant changes in policy. It’s also generally considered a good thing to bring in Green Papers, debate issues and then issue a White Paper before entirely changing the whole funding structure of a key part of British society, but then good governance seems very low down the priority list of this coalition.

  14. Daniel Pitt

    Cameron fails to retract claim regulator will be able to cut fees: http://bit.ly/jOhTgU #ConDemNation

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