Guest blog for PlatformTen:
On Tuesday morning Lord Browne’s Independent Review of Higher Education Funding will be released. On Tuesday a storm unlike anything that we have seen will be unleashed upon the coalition.
The National Union of Students has already set a date for a protest mach to Downing Street on November 10th – but it won’t just be students at the rally. Politicians, academics, ‘lay’ people will all be joining tens of thousands of young people/future voters in expressing their outrage at whatever it is that Lord Browne will be advising.
Aside from the mild point that the review has yet to be released to the wider public, hay is already starting to be made from this debate on both sides of the house. Ed Milliband is rumoured to be biding his time to hear the coalition response on the potential raise in tuition fees. The reason for his silence? This is one of the most fractious areas of the Coalition Agreement, with the Liberal Democrats having signed pledges both before and following the election vehemently refusing to implement a hike in fees. For Labour it could simply be the case of waiting for the Coalition to tear itself apart.
I am confident that the dexterity the Conservatives have thus far displayed in navigating through the mire of negative press over the child benefit cuts can be easily deployed for this similarly disruptive issue. Though this, as ever, relies on clear communication which in turn is dependent on a firm political line from the Government.
An ICM survey for The Sunday Telegraph found that 61% of voters supported a graduate tax, compared with 29% who would rather see higher tuition fees. This is in contrast to David Willetts, universities minister, who is clearly opposed to a pure tax and Vince Cable who argues that something more ‘progressive’ than it must be proposed. It’s easy to see why the public want students to pay – so they don’t have to! But with past data showing that students won’t run for the hills following a fees hike, is there any political reason not to?
Yes. There are over 481,854 students in Britain. Most of whom can vote. Therein lies the danger for the Coalition. Not only are the Lib Dems already being lambasted for a colossal U-turn, but if the Conservatives miscommunicate their motives behind whatever Browne’s review contains then the rancour of students, and thus middle-class voters, will haunt the Conservatives for many general elections to come.
University funding is turning out to be the one of the key debates that will determine the shape of the next general election. The student and youth movements are powerful and should not be underestimated, if only because one day they will be the middle-class tax-paying voters. Grudges are hard things to shake.