This month, the first cohort of students from our area who will have to pay up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees start their courses. I know how much of a worry this has been and will continue to be to thousands of young people I represent, as well as their parents, grandparents, friends and other relatives. I believe there is a huge consensus in this country that we all want to see support given to the next generation to do well. Everybody wants to help create a brighter future for young people within our society.
For the first time in modern history, I know there is serious worry in our community that this will not be the case; that the changing global economic forces and the policies of the LibDem/Conservative government threaten the future of the next generation. As young people prepare to say their goodbyes as they head off to university, I am adamant that the government should not be adding to the fears parents naturally have for their children when they leave home. There is a huge amount of potential in our young people, and I strongly believe the future can offer huge opportunities, so long as we have the policies and support in place for our generation, and the next, to meet them.
Before the 2010 Election, Liberal Democrat candidates, councillors and activists campaigned on a promise to abolish tuition fees in England and Wales. Thousands of people, young and old, believed that Party’s promise. The failure of the Party to keep to that promise has been incredibly damaging to the faith that young people hold in politicians and in our political system.
After the General Election in 2010, Liberal Democrat Councillors and activists met at a special Party Conference to endorse the Coalition Agreement negotiated by their leader Nick Clegg. The document they endorsed not only failed to abolish tuition fees but also signed our whole country up to an economic plan they had previously opposed and which has since pushed the country into the longest double-dip recession since World Word Two.
When Vince Cable presented a bill to the House of Commons to raise the maximum level of tuition fees to £9,000, it was the last straw for many who had previously supported the Liberal Democrat Party. A great many left the Party, instead choosing to support Labour, or even drifting away from politics altogether.
At a time when young people are struggling with a disastrously weak jobs market, there is a huge worry that fear of debt will put many capable young people, especially from areas like ours, off going to university altogether, as well as placing an unacceptable burden on those that do.
But we are where we are. What could the government do now to ease the burden they have imposed on students? They could immediately cut fees to £6,000 by reversing the corporation tax cut they gave to the banks and requiring graduates earning over £65,000 a year to make a greater contribution. Investing in skills and knowledge for the future should be a priority – but the trebling of fees threatens to restrict opportunities for the next generation and damage the potential of our economy in years to come.