“What you talkin’ about, Willetts?” asks Richard Partington


Hat tip to John Prescott (http://twitter.com/johnprescott)

Just four months before his ascent to the cabinet, David Willetts published a book that showed how his baby boomer generation “stole their children’s future – and how they can give it back.”

So there is great piquancy in his clearest indication yet that students could be forced to pay higher tuition fees – a move which would condemn subsequent generations to a grim financial future.

In The Pinch, Willetts explains that the baby boomers have attained a position of power and wealth at the expense of their children. Yet his comment that the current cost of students’ degree courses are a “burden on the taxpayer that had to be tackled” shows that he himself holds no remorse.

He has not pre-empted the recommendations of Lord Browne’s independent review into whether fees should rise from £3,225 a year. But he did say that students should consider fees “more as an obligation to pay higher income tax” than a debt.

I come from a family with a modest, lower middle class income. My parents could not afford wholly to finance me through my degree and I had to survive on money from part-time employment, my overdraft and the student loan.

Like everyone else whose family isn’t rich, I’m saddled with big debts. If Willetts’ proposals had been visited on me, I would not have been able to go to university. I was fortunate to start in the last year before top-up fees came in. Even that increase would have been a struggle.

I am not unusual by any means. Students like me have already felt the pinch. Soon, there won’t be a loan big enough.

Now, these cuts turn higher education into a gamble. Do young people risk all on an expensive education which might not even get them into employment? I would not be able to afford to take that risk. It’s a vast sum of money without the guarantee of a highly paid job. And now this gamble is turning into a reality, and graduates are struggling to find that guarantee.

Through the Liberal Democrats, there is at least a chance that Willetts’ plans will be curbed. Any attempt to raise fees will be at odds with the policy of the Conservatives’ coalition partners, who pledged to scrap university tuition fees ahead of the election. Fighting this kind of thing gave me hope for the Lib Dems.

 As I see it, though, Nick Clegg’s party aren’t standing strong enough. Down this road, we are doomed to go backwards on the issue of university education. We just can’t afford to return to a time when education was for the rich elite.

Although Willetts claims in his book that the expansion of higher education has damaged social mobility, any plans to raise tuition fees will deny the poorest in society access to a university education. Such an attack on bright children from poor backgrounds would destroy social mobility.

Placing an obligation to pay “higher income tax” on students would only continue the hegemony of the baby boomer generation. Willets himself identifies this.

Without the Labour party in power, there is no viable progressive left wing voice in government to protect the interests of young people facing the decision to improve their skills, employability and worth to society through higher education.

Learning shouldn’t be made into a gamble. Our young people already have a financial mountain to climb, and we shouldn’t be making the journey any more difficult.

You can follow Richard Partington on Twitter



Tags: , , , , , , , ,

One Response to ““What you talkin’ about, Willetts?” asks Richard Partington”

  1. Nigel Wright says:

    Wouldn’t a graduate tax apply retrospectively to all graduates, including babyboomers?

Leave a Reply