Local MPs express opposition to tuition fees, but lose fight in parliamentary vote

Photo: Germaine Arnold

All eight Labour MPs across the boroughs of Croydon, Hackney, Lewisham and Tower Hamlets voted against the proposal to raise tuition fees for university students, while the two Conservative MPs for Croydon voted in favour.

During yesterday’s debate in the House of Commons, Diane Abbott – Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington – said the rise in tuition fees combined with the longer length of certain courses would prevent students from obtaining medical degrees.

Abbott, who under Tony Blair persistently refused to accept party consensus on tuition fees, said on her Twitter page yesterday: “Voted against tuition fees when my government first introduced them. (when it was a career killer!) Will vote against today.”

Rushanara Ali – Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow – also spoke in the debate, saying the abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) will have a particularly negative impact on British Bangladeshi pupils in her constituency.

In response, business secretary Vince Cable said the existing system is “enormously wasteful” as it goes to many people who do not need it.

After a public meeting in November discussing the fee increase with his constituents, Gavin Barwell – Conservative MP for Croydon Central – said: “I was left in no doubt how unfair they feel it is that they are being asked to take on much higher debts to pay for the mistakes of the previous government and the greed of some bankers.”

He also said many do not realise the raising of the income threshold at which graduates start repaying loans, from £15,000 to £21,000, will mean “graduates will be paying less per week than they do at present.”

Joan Ruddock – Labour MP for Lewisham Deptford – said the increase is “absolutely unacceptable” because it transfers the entire cost to students, and institutions specialising in the arts could lose up to 100 per cent of their teaching funding, which is “a recipe for disaster.”

“The major institutions in my constituency are Goldsmiths and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, which are known for absolute excellence and have world-renowned reputations,” she said.

After voting against the proposal, Heidi Alexander – Labour MP from Lewisham East – said last night: “I believe that fears about debt are greater amongst young people who have grown up in a family where money is tight.

“I think it is much harder for young people from less well-off backgrounds to imagine a scenario in which they will have a job where the repayments are manageable.”

University education had been free up until 1998 when Labour introduced tuition fees of £1,000, later increasing the amount to £3,000 with the Higher Education Act of 2004. The Browne Review, commissioned in 2009, recommended achieving a “sustainable future for higher education” by removing the cap on fees altogether

In response to the Browne Review, yesterday’s vote established an amendment to the 2004 Act, raising the previous cap. Changes taking effect in 2012 include higher tuition fees, a raised income threshold at which graduates start repaying loans, and increased grants with a new National Scholarship Programme for those from lower income families.

On the eve of the debate, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), a leading economic research body, said: “The Government’s proposals are more progressive than the current system or that proposed by Lord Browne.

“The highest earning graduates would pay more on average than both the current system and that proposed by Lord Browne, while lower earning graduates would pay back less.”

For previous ELL coverage on the tuition fees debate and protests, see here.

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