The Green Party have slammed a vote in Parliament this evening (9 December) which allows tuition fees in England to increase to £9,000.
The Greens, along with Plaid Cymru, repeated their call for tuition fees to be abolished altogether and for higher education to be funded out of general taxation. The Labour Party, which introduced fees in 1997 and increased them in 2004, now wants to replace them with a graduate tax.
The vote was passed by only 21 votes after the Liberal Democrats split over the issue. 28 Liberal Democrats voted in favour, with 21 against and eight abstentions. The party's original coalition agreement with the Conservatives had said that all Liberal Democrats could abstain on the issue.
“This is a dark day for the future of higher education in this country,” said Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.
She insisted that, “The huge hikes in tuition fees, together with the scrapping of Educational Maintenance Allowance and proposed cuts in college funding, amount to nothing less than a government assault on our young people – and an attack on the principles of universal education.”
She said that many people in her constituency in Brighton “may be priced out of going to university as a result of today's vote – and those who do go are likely to be saddled with massive debt. This is unacceptable for a society which values social mobility and inclusiveness.”
Her anger was echoed by Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards, who turned his fire on the Liberal Democrats.
“The only reason this vote got through was because of the LibDem ministers,” insisted Edwards, “The political price of their government roles will be high - this is the biggest breach of trust yet”.
Edwards said he expected “nothing better” from the Tories, but “the LibDems have u-turned yet again on their principles”.
The Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru have long battled for the student vote in various parts of Wales, and both parties now have an eye on the Welsh Assembly elections due in May 2011.
Edwards said, “They have betrayed the trust of young people and future generations by breaking their promise to fight against increasing tuition fees”.
But he added, “Let's remember that the principle of free higher education to benefit society was of course broken by the New Labour government back in 1997. Plaid Cymru is therefore the only party fighting for our students and the right to higher education.”
Following this evening's vote, Labour's John Denham said, “The plans are not fair, not necessary and not good for higher education. Conservatives and Liberal Democrat MPs have let down their constituents, let down young people and let down higher education.”
But Business Secretary Vince Cable, a leading Liberal Democrat, welcomed Parliament's decision.
“Today's vote has been an important step in turning the coalition's commitment to deliver a high-quality university sector that is more responsive to the needs of students into a reality,” said Cable.