Source: Chatham House
The Liberal Democrats have pledged in their manifesto to hold a review of higher education and to introduce legislation on the sector’s regulation.
Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, led his MPs in signing a pledge before the 2010 election to vote against any rise in university tuition fees.
But he was among 28 of the party’s 57 MPs who then voted to treble fees to £9,000 when the party entered coalition with the Conservatives.
The Lib Dem manifesto, published on 15 April, says that the party has “ensured that no undergraduate student in England has to pay a penny up front of their tuition fees”, with “the highest university application rates ever, including from disadvantaged students”.
However, there have also been claims that the new loans system is unsustainable in its impact on public finances, while many Lib Dem members and MPs remain hostile to fees.
The manifesto pledges that the Lib Dems would “establish a review of higher education finance within the next Parliament to consider any necessary reforms, in the light of the latest evidence of the impact of the existing financing system on access, participation (including of low-income groups) and quality. The review will cover undergraduate and postgraduate courses, with an emphasis on support for living costs for students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
The document also says: “We will legislate to reform regulation of the higher education sector, improving student protection.”
Elsewhere in the manifesto are pledges to “ensure that all universities work to widen participation across the sector, prioritising early intervention in schools and colleges”; to “require universities to be transparent about their selection criteria”; to “work with university ‘mission groups’ to develop a comprehensive credit accumulation and transfer framework to help students transfer between and within institutions, enable more part-time learning, and help more people to complete qualifications”; and to “explore the option of a standardised student contract”.
The party also says it will “maintain Disabled Students’ Allowance”.
On overseas students, the Lib Dems pledge to “separate students within official immigration statistics”. The pledge follows widespread concern among universities about the impact of the inclusion of students in the net migration figures, which have been the focus of a Conservative drive to reduce immigration to the “tens of thousands”.
The Lib Dems also say they will “ensure the UK is an attractive destination for overseas students, not least those who wish to study STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). We will reinstate post-study work visas for STEM graduates who can find graduate-level employment within six months of completing their degree.”
On science and research, the manifesto says the Lib Dems will “aim to double innovation and research spending across the economy, supported by greater public funding on a longer timescale, more ‘Catapult’ innovation and technology centres and support for green innovation from the Green Investment Bank. We will continue to ringfence the science budget and ensure that, by 2020, both capital and revenue spending have increased at least in line with inflation.”