The youth wings of the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have both attacked proposals to lift the cap on student tuition fees in England.
The strongly worded statement from Liberal Youth provides another embarrassment for Liberal Democrat ministers, who have allied with their Conservative coalition colleagues in accepting the plan. The organisation's vice-chair, Charlotte Henry, described ministers' refusal to rule out a fee increase as “regressive”.
Meanwhile, Charlotte Dingle, co-chair of the Young Greens, said that, “rather than widening access to university, these proposals will make our already unfair system more elitist”.
The two groups join a long list of youth and student organisation who have condemned plans for higher fees, including the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Student Christian Movement (SCM).
Tuition fees at English universities are currently capped at just over £3,000. But the Browne Review into higher education funding recommended earlier this week that the cap should be abolished. The Business Secretary Vince Cable, a Liberal Democrat, said that the government accepted the “main thrust” of the proposals and legislation is expected to put them into practice.
The coalition agreement allows Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain on issues of higher education funding, but it is now becoming clear that many will choose to vote against plans to raise fees.
Julian Huppert, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, told Ekklesia today (14 October) that, “I've been an anti-fees campaigner since I was an undergraduate. It's a pretty clear thing.”
Asked if this meant that he would vote against the government, he said that the government had not formalised their proposals, but that he would certainly vote against them if they put forward the recommendations of the Browne Review.
A significant rebellion by Liberal Democrat MPs raises the prospect of defeat for the government, as the Labour leader Ed Miliband has confirmed that Labour MPs will join with other parties, such as the Greens, in voting against the proposals.
Martin Shapland, Chair of Liberal Youth, predicted that, “Higher fees will not be acceptable to grassroots Lib Dems and, I imagine, most of the parliamentary party”.
He added, “You simply cannot build our future on debt. This move has the potential to cripple students with unprecedented levels of debt which will act as a real deterrent to those from poorer backgrounds seeking a better life through the education system.”
The Young Greens' Charlotte Dingle predicted that the proposals would “lead to a two-tier system – one for the rich in elite universities, and a race to the bottom for the rest.”
She criticised Tory and Liberal Democrat ministers for their acceptance of the proposals. But she attacked the Labour Party for introducing fees while in government and insisted that the Green Party is now unique in England in upholding free higher education.
“We believe education must be free, equally accessible to all, ideologically independent and of high quality as well as meeting the individual developmental needs of each student,” she said.