Friday, December 10, 2010

Tuition Fees and Educational Maintenance Allowance

Last night's vote on tuition fees will be a blow to many families living in South Camberwell and Southwark. The prospect of incurring £30,000 or more of debt is not a good one, particularly when you take into account the fact that the average income in our borough is just £16,000.

I take the view that if we value education as a society we should be prepared to pay for it. Is it better for our country that we raise our educational attainment? Yes, of course it is. In an increasingly competitive world it is vital that the UK does not fall behind other economies in terms of having a highly skilled and educated workforce. I believe that the decision to triple tuition fees is a short-term fix which has no medium or long term merit. If just one young person is deterred from higher education as a result of this change, then I believe it is a retrograde step.

At the same time the abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance ('EMA') which has funded poorer 16-18 year olds in further education will also have a dire impact. At an event at Southwark college with Ed Miliband on Wednesday many students spoke about the fact that their decision to stay in further education had only been made possible because of the EMA. Without it they would have had to leave school as their parents would not have been able to support them.

So two changes of policy which will harm our education system, and will trample on the ambition of so many young people from our borough.

I find Simon Hughes position on these measures appalling. He pledged to protect his constituents by voting against any rise in tuition fees, but his abstention meant that the vote was won by the government. There are circumstances in which an abstention can be a matter of principle. There can be circumstances in which an abstention can be politically expedient. But in the case of Simon Hughes, an abstention was a betrayal of his constituents and a simple broken promise. Can we ever believe anything he ever says in the future?

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