Cameron Tait, Students’ Union President met with Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, Norman Baker, to discuss his views on the Browne Report. The meeting, on Saturday 16 October, involved further discussion on the government’s plans to cut the higher education budget. The recent Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) will in fact cut the budget for universities by £3 billion.
As a Liberal Democrat, Norman Baker has pledged to vote against university top up fees. According to his official website, normanbaker.org.uk, Baker has stated that the introduction of top up fees “would make a bad situation even worse.”
Tait met with Norman to talk about his reaction and to discover whether he would uphold his pledge and vote against the removal of the cap on tuition fees.
On October 12, the Browne Report emerged, providing a comprehensive review of the current situation of higher education in the UK.
The report proposes to lift the cap on university fees, which is currently set at £3290 per year. Following the review, universities could potentially charge between £6000 and £12,000 a year. Browne however has said that there is no way of identifying the upper limit of these fees.
In the run up to the latest election the Liberal Democrats, including Norman Baker, consistently campaigned against tuition fees and top up fees. The Liberal Democrats promised to ensure that higher education would be free under their government.
However, the MP reflected in his meeting with Tait that he had a duty to work with his Conservative partners.
Baker’s initial response to the report was that, he believes, it addresses the problem of the current structure of the higher education system. He feels the report is committed to financing these changes in a progressive way as 20 to 30 percent of students will actually pay less for their degree.
Norman’s moral feelings about the report include his fears that it could threaten to damage social equality, yet he agrees, to some extent, that it needs to be done to bolster the fragile state of the economy.
Baker said that he wishes to uphold his pledge and feels that if members of the Liberal Democrats do go back on their word it would mean disaster as people would lose faith in the political system.
Cameron summarised the meeting by commenting: “Norman was clearly personally in favour of keeping to his pledge, but was wavering over the future vote in the commons because of pressure from his party and the coalition government. We need to remind Norman and the other 56 Lib Dem MPs to put principles over power and to not only vote against raising tuition fees, but to encourage others to resist the cuts to Higher Education.”
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