Lib Dems ‘moving towards’ graduate tax policy for England

But Layla Moran says party unlikely to finalise HE stance before next election – when it could secure pivotal role in event of hung Parliament

September 16, 2019
Source: Getty

The Liberal Democrats are “moving towards” a graduate tax in their English higher education funding policy, according to their education spokeswoman, who criticised Labour’s plan to fund universities solely via public spending along with the fees status quo.

If the next general election results in a hung Parliament, the Lib Dems could have a crucial say on the future of sector funding if they enter any kind of accord with the Conservatives or Labour.

Speaking to Times Higher Education ahead of the party’s autumn conference, Layla Moran said the Lib Dems were unlikely to finalise their higher education funding policy before the next election. The party has been waiting for the government’s response to the Augar review before proceeding.

Ms Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon since 2017, previously called tuition fees the “pink, dancing elephant in the room” for the Lib Dems, given the trauma suffered by the party after it entered coalition with the Tories in 2010 and broke its pledge to oppose fee increases.

That “elephant” is now “a muted grey, and it’s not quite as big as it used to be”, she joked.

“If Brexit has done nothing else, it has made people realise that the Liberal Democrats stand for more than just the mistakes of the past,” she said.

Nevertheless, Ms Moran said, tuition fees had been “a massive issue, and I’m on record as saying I very nearly left the party over it”.

On present policy, she has “stopped short of calling for zero fees, as the Labour Party do”. Labour has costed its policy at £11 billion a year.

Ms Moran said of Labour’s plan: “It’s an extremely expensive policy. We’ve been really clear that if we’ve got that amount of money, what we would do is plough it into early years and schools, and FE colleges, and make sure any policy we put forward is prioritised to be progressive and also available to everybody.”

But she also said that the current £9,250 fees system “definitely needs reforming” after the Tories “ate away” at “progressive safeguards” secured by the Lib Dems in coalition.

“We haven’t settled on policy on this yet, but we are seriously looking at it,” said Ms Moran. “It’s moving towards more of a graduate tax.”

Ms Moran suggested that the party would aim for a “much, much more generous offer” on student maintenance, with the Welsh living-cost support system – introduced by Lib Dem minister Kirsty Williams in a Labour minority government – likely to offer “the template”.

Ms Moran said problems with the English fees system include prospective students being deterred from entry because they see their funding “as a loan” even though the vast majority will never repay in full; and wealthier students being able to repay less in total by paying off loans early.

“I think a graduate tax would sort that out,” she added. “It would just make it more transparent and more progressive.”

On Brexit, she said: “The Liberal Democrats’ answer is clear: it is just such a catastrophe for so many different parts of our economy, but in particular the university sector, that we’d rather make Brexit stop altogether.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

Lets recap. What precisely did the liberal democrats do last time they were any where near government. Fees went to corporate levels. Try rewriting that one. The attempt so far poor, is the university sector so reliant on what it sees as grants from the E.U. that it cannot see what that has done to other people in society who live right next door to its university. Really.
A party advocating the revocation of Article 50 would be my dream ticket.... if only they could be trusted. After they abandoned their 'pledge' on tuition fees in their mad scramble for a bit of power (and then failed completely to be a moderating influence on Conservative obsession with 'austerity' to the detriment of the citizens of this nation), there is no way that anything they say can be trusted.

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