As general election 2015 approaches, heated debate was sparked regarding Liberal Democrats’ failure to deliver their promise of abolishing tuition fees in 2010.
Christopher Bowers, the Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion in May’s general election, had an open discussion with students at the University of Sussex on 5 February 2015.
Exploring good and bad impacts brought by the new tuition fees system introduced by the coalition government in 2010, Bowers justified the policy, explaining that it has not caused a decrease in the number of students applying to University.
Instead, UCAS figures showed that it has narrowed the gap between children from high-income and low-income families.
According to statistics from 2014/15, 72 percent of 18-year-olds from low-income families were more likely to go to university in 2015 than 9 years ago.
In the current education system, the tuition fee cap is at £9000 which came into force for students enrolling in university places in the 2012/2013 academic year.
Bowers referred to the 2010 manifesto to phase out first degree tuition fees of undergraduate over a period of 6 years as a ‘costed policy’ which cannot be done within the lifetime of one government.
That the issue was constantly referred to as ‘Liberal Democratic broken promise’ but Bower believes that the change of policy from the Liberal Democrats shows that the party is capable of adjusting to societal needs.
Given the current economic climate, Bowers argued that the Browne Report regarding funding of Higher Education left their party with two options – to abide with the pledge, or to use leverage from Higher Education to get the best possible deal for the younger generation. Mr Bowers believes the party should choose the latter.
He said: “Having an alternative voting system was always one of our red line issues, tuition fees wasn’t. We campaigned on it. It’s very difficult to develop an argument within 50 words or a 12-second soundbite,” Mr Bowers attributed part of the negative views in society to its portrayal in the media.
He hopes that students and the society will see the full picture and understand there is an element of social equality within the tuition fee system Liberal Democrats have compromised.
Bowers also wishes students will care more about other aspects in the society, including issues regarding the environment and human rights, apart from what directly affects what is in their pocket.