Lib Dem hits back on student fees row

READERS should know that I attended the student march at the end of last year to speak with students face to face.

I confirmed to them my determination to lobby my own party, and put the case that new contributions scheme – which abolishes up front fees, and requires people to contribute to the costs of higher education in proportion to the amount they earn, after reaching a salary of £21,000 per annum – is a fairer system than the flat rate payments that were in place under the previous Government.

I was not at the rally as a fig leaf for our Conservative MP, I was there because I am opposed to tuition fees: the freezing and gradual abolition of which remains the policy of the Liberal Democrats.

If the General Election maths had been different, and whether the coalition had been with Labour or the Conservatives, we Lib Dems would have been in bed with parties that both wanted to retain and increase tuition fees: exactly the opposite of our own policy.

What we have done, in the economic and political circumstances, is to ensure that pupils who are from disadvantaged backgrounds will get proportionately more help with the costs of a university education; and they will only have to pay back, when they are enjoying the benefits of it (£21,000 salary pa). We have also buffered possible cuts to FE.

For the record, Brighton will only receive permission to make their fees increase if the Office for Fair Access deems their package of plans for disadvantaged students acceptable.

The fee increases are worrying. But we need to continue to encourage our talented young people to still hold university in their sights as a realistic prospect. That is why I continue to lobby on behalf of the constituency in respect of the replacement for EMA.

NICK PERRY

Lib Dem Parliamentary Campaigner for Hastings and Rye