Lord Browne’s recommendations – bad for Wales

Lord Browne’s review of tuition fees has received a lot of press. It’s interesting to see the Lib Dems wriggling and squirming and trying to justify Browne’s recommendation to allow Universities to raise unlimited tuition fees. I hope that this principle-less, soul-less party will be severely punished in the 2011 elections. But this is not the point of this posting.

Allowing Universities to raise exorbitant fees on education will seriously damage the future of the UK’s poorest communities. The fundamental unfairness of charging for education, expecting students to pay through loans that have interest rates similar to those on the open market will mean that students will have tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt when they graduate. This is obvious for us all to see. What has not been mentioned is how those graduates are then expected to buy/rent a house and start a family if they so wish. Regardless of the recession and supposedly falling house prices house prices are still ridiculously high, and rent is unreasonably high in most of our towns. How is a graduate expected to pay a 10% deposit on a house (£20k on a £200k house) while having to spend a large chunk of his pay packet on paying back the student loan? Lord Browne says that they will not be expected to pay these debts back until they earn in excess of £21k, but this is hardly enough to allow the graduate to buy a house in any case!

However this isn’t the point of this posting either.

The point is to do specifically with Wales.

Browne’s report has proven to be very timely for the Conservative. The Tories have mad a huge show of claiming that the deep cuts in public expenditure are necessary because of the financial deficit.

The truth is that it is an ideological decision. There is nothing that necessitates them to cut back in such a savage way, severely limiting some essential public services. If the Government were serious about reducing the so called ‘national’ debt, then they should first of all look to bring in more money to the treasury. As I’ve already said in another blog post, this could be done by forcing non-doms and large businesses to pay UK tax in full. But they haven’t done that, and they’re not interested in doing that. The Tories have always said that they believe that the state should ‘interfere’ less in people’s every day life. The national debt has given them the excuse they needed to exercise this belief to the extreme, by cutting back on public expenditure which will ultimately allow them to cut various taxes, such as corporation and income tax.

Therefore by arguing that students should pay for their own education this has given the Government the opportunity to look again at public funding – this time the axe will fall on Higher Education.

Last year HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England)  received a little over £7bn, mainly for funding Universities. Coupling the need to cut public funding with increases in private funding (tuition fees) has given them the perfect opportunity to slash funding for Higher Education, and I’m sure that we’ll see less money going to HEFCE over the next few years.

You might be thinking ‘What has this got to do with Wales? After all Education is a devolved matter. While this is true the amount of money that the Assembly receives as a block grant from Westminster is decided through a special formula – the infamous Barnett formula. By cutting back on funding for higher education in England this will result in what is called a Barnett consequential, with the knock on effect resulting in less money for Wales.

Of course with it being a block grant then the decision as to how and where to allocate that Block grant is the prerogative of the Assembly Government, but if they choose to maintain the present level of funding on Higher Education and stick to their policy of not increasing tuition fees any further, then the inevitable result will mean that other departments will have to suffer. It is very difficult to see how the Welsh Assembly Government, of whatever hue will a) be able to maintain the current levels of funding on Higher Education and b) not be tempted to raise tuition fees in Wales.

Whichever way it goes it will be Welsh Universities that will ultimately lose out, none more so than Glyndwr University, Glamorgan, and Newport, all of which are dependant to a large degree on the local population.

This will ultimately result in the Welsh economy suffering, with less people going to university from Wales, the richest being able to pay for the best education that their money can buy, and our disadvantaged communities not being able to provide its people with higher education not because of academic inability but because of economic inability.

We must oppose these recommendations by Lord Browne if we want to see everybody in Wales getting an equal opportunity to access higher education.

– UPDATE –

According to the BBC today, my fears have been confirmed and English Universities face cuts of £4.2bn, which will have a serious impact on funding for Wales.

– UPDATE 2 –

Robert Mackie of Cardiff University agrees with my concern that graduates will not be able to afford to buy a home: here.

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