One of our parties main pledges has been to scrap tuition fees. It is this pledge that has garnered support from young people across the country and feel that it is the one political group that speaks for and represents students or students to be.
The state of the nation's finances means that public spnding has got to be seriously curtailed, which of course has a knock on effect on the ability for this pledge to be delivered. We are still awaiting Lord Browne's Inquiry into University fees, but last night's speech by Vince Cable at London Southbank University has given us a glimpse into how the Government will reconcile economic hardship with the need to keep access to further education as open and as fair as possible.
Vince has asked Lord Browne to examine the introduction of a 'Graduate Tax.' Basically this would mean that students would pay for their studies through their earnings-with those on higher salaries paying more. This would be instead of Universities charging variable higher fees.
Some think its a betrayal of the party's principles; that entering into coalition with the Conservatives has meant that a key policy has had to be watered down. However, the deficit is a large, depressing reality and students cant be exempt from shouldering their share of the burden. If their education is a stepping stone to a salary they wouldnt have acheived without it, then surely being taxed based on this is fair.
Vince also warned that the 'severe financial pressure' in the sector will mean that radical steps will be needed to overhaul the system. He believes that this could include shortening degree courses and introducing more market forces into the sector.
The impact of the recession, and the thousands of graduates streaming out from University with similar degrees, all facing the prospect of a long, hard slog to find a job, should also jolt the Government and the education sector into looking at exactly what skills and qualifications students leave university education with.
A re-balanced economy less dependent on the financial sector demands a re-evaluation of the types of courses that many young people are currently being guided into. If they are entering into University education with the prospect of paying off their fees for many years ahead, they need to be offered subjects that give them a serious chance of finding long-term employment.
You can hear more on Vince's speech here: