Simon Hughes MP has been recruited by David Cameron and Nick Clegg to help persuade young people that they will still be able to afford university despite the plans to raise tuition fees.It was announced today that he would fulfil the role of Government Advocate Access to Education and attempt to dispel “myths” about the changes to education policy.
Mr Hughes said: “It is a privilege to be asked to take on this role, and I will do so with urgency, enthusiasm and determination.
“Parliament has settled the maximum university fee level in England from 2012 and we now have a critically-important task to ensure that every potential student has access to all the facts about the costs, benefits and opportunities of further and higher education.”
He will also use his six months unpaid appointment to help find a replacement for the Education Maintenance Allowance – the axing of which he has strongly criticised.
The Liberal Democrat deputy leader came under attack from students across the four boroughs when he abstained from the Commons vote on fees last month.
A spokesman for the National Union of Students has called his new government appointment “a tiny plaster over a gaping wound” – a sentiment that is being echoed by students and Lib-Dem voters across London.
James Haywood a Goldsmiths Students’ Union officer said: “It is not a viable role at all, it is a smoke-screen to help the Coalition make their tripling of fees look progressive.
“At least we now know why Hughes refused to vote how he promised; to land himself a nice role in the Government.”
David Cameron and Nick Clegg hope that Mr Hughes’ position will help to illuminate the true facts about the trebling of tuition fees, which they feel have been “obscured” by anger over the Lib-Dems breaking their pre-election promises.
The coalition leaders wrote to Mr Hughes saying that it would be a “tragedy for them” if young people from disadvantaged backgrounds did not apply to university because of “misinformation” surrounding the rise in tuition fees..
The shadow business secretary John Denham criticised Mr Hughes’s appointment as “cynical” and “window-dressing”.
Mr Denham told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “He should apologise for not voting against this policy. The Tory-led Government is clearly worried that students will be put off or make bad choices because they are put off by higher fees. Simon Hughes is as responsible as anyone in this Parliament for that.”