Monday, 21 September 2009

A solution to Nick Clegg's tuition fees dilemma

It is a bit like Life on Mars listening to the World at One, and all those Liberal Democrats pretending that tuition fees are not a successful fact of life. Their debates are like those in the Labour Party that preceded the actual introduction of tuition fees; the only difference is that we now have hard evidence of their impact.

One objector complains that fees have stopped lots of young people going to university: yet the problem faced by universities has been precisely the opposite, in that so many want to do so. Numbers rose 8 or 9 per cent a year in spite of fees. Even the National Union of Students now favours a graduate tax. But since his party clearly has so much trouble coming to terms with reality, I have a solution for Nick Clegg.

The Liberal Democrat leader wants to pretend that his abandonment of this principled attempt to secure a few university seats for his party will be delayed rather than abandoned. Fair enough. But does he really need to present it quite so negatively? All he needs to say is that the Liberal Democrats will scrap tuition fees once they win a majority in the House of Commons. Surely all Liberal Democrats can sign up to that one.

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