Consistent Lib Dems

February 25, 2005

Alison Wolf is less than fair to the Liberal Democrats (Opinion, February 18). First, we have been consistent in our opposition to tuition fees since they were first mooted in the run-up to the Dearing report in 1996-97. Second, we have also been consistent in arguing that a properly progressive income tax is the best form of means test available. Since 82 per cent of those earning more than £100,000 are graduates, our proposed 50 per cent band on those earning more than £100,000 amounts de facto to a graduate tax on those earning the highest incomes. (Why should we clobber the new graduate earning £25,000 while letting those in their forties and fifties who have done so well get away with no contribution?). Third, if Wolf reads the small print of our policy she will find that we are not carrying forward the Scottish endowment system in England.

Finally, we are the only party to embrace the Tomlinson vision of a diversity of routes to post-19 learning and to seek to build from it a comprehensive framework of lifelong learning. Our amendments to the Higher Education Bill - extending the Office for Fair Access's remit and the reach of loans, bursaries and grants to part-time and mature students - will probably do more in the long run to widen participation than any Russell Group bursary scheme.

Margaret Sharp

Liberal Democrat spokesman on
higher education, House of Lords

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