The Times Higher Education Supplement reports that Britain’s coalition government agreement to abolish tuition fees in England and replace them with a system closer to a graduate tax is near. Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader, says it simply needs edging “over the line”.
His “belief, hope and conviction” was that fees would be scrapped whatever Lord Browne of Madingley’s review of fees and funding proposes when it reports in three weeks.
Business leaders are resisting the tax however saying the competitiveness of the UK economy will be hurt.
Mr Hughes said that Vince Cable, the business secretary, had been doing “sterling work” convincing civil servants that abolition of fees was necessary to meet the Lib Dems’ pre-election commitment to scrap them.
Most Lib Dem MPs signed a pre-election pledge to vote against any rise in fees put before Parliament. However, the coalition agreement with the Conservatives only allows them to abstain.
Mr Hughes said the message he was getting from inside government was that a “progressive” proposal replacing fees with a new system had almost been agreed.
The University and College Union (UCU) has said in response that if government wanted to find a progressive solution to university funding then it had to look again at ways to ensure all those who benefit from higher education pay their fair share. The union also warned that the general public would not fall for student debt simply being increased and given a new name.
It said the country, students and businesses are all the beneficiaries of higher education. The country and students have contributed through state funding and tuition fees, the contribution from business has been negligible.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “[Business Secretary] Vince Cable is wrong to suggest that the only way to maintain excellence in UK higher education is through asking graduates to pay more. We believe all parties and Lord Browne need to seriously look at forcing big business to finally pay its fair share for the numerous benefits it receives from higher education.