Many years ago, in the days when Dr Who made some sense and was played by the masterful (sic) talents of David Tennant, my daughter was the proud owner of a two foot high remote control Dalek. As it moved menacingly down the landing it would repeat a number of phrases, the most frequent of which was ‘Seek, locate, annihilate’. The Dalek is now a mere ornament in the corner of a teenager’s bedroom, but its impotent chanting lives on today in the voice of Labour leader Ed Miliband, as I hear him chant his method for policy formulation: ‘Seek, locate, triangulate’.
Miliband’s new wheeze on student tuition fees (www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/sep/24/labour-tuition-fees-cut-miliband?CMP=twt_fd) can hardly be called a policy. After a year of waiting for a policy to appear from the official Opposition, it appears that all he has been able to do is take the coalition’s policy and triangulate ineffectively with some protesting ideas, resulting in almost exactly the same policy as the coalition, but with added bells. Whatever happened to the idea contained in his manifesto for Labour leader of a graduate tax? A good point, as a search for the policy on his web site will find the page has been removed. Thankfully there are always cached copies living on to remind us of Ed’s thoughts and principles just one year ago:
But the Graduate Tax is a fairer alternative, and one I’ve been arguing for for some time. This is an important matter of principle.
Those who believe in the future of our economy and the future of our young people, as I do, have a responsibility to come together and press for a fair and sustainable future for our Universities. That is the sort of Labour Party I will lead, offering real alternatives, bringing together the forces of progressive politics and turning our guiding values into real action for people.
That’s pretty clear.
There are three reasons why even the increase in maximum fees to £6,000 rather than £9,000 will make very little or no difference to those prospective students Ed seeks to beguile.
Firstly, the change is likely to benefit only two groups of people: those whose parents can afford to pay the fees up front and those who will earn a high salary, but not quite enough to pay the higher rate of interest which will be ‘asked’ of those earning over £65,000 (can they therefore say no?).
Following on from this point, as money expert Martin Lewis explains succinctly, monthly repayments are the same whether fees are £6,000 or £9,000.
Finally, tuition fees are only a small part of the costs of studying for a degree and the only one that doesn’t have to be paid immediately. The NUS estimate that the cost of living during term time for an undergraduate student for the last academic year, excluding tuition fees, was £12,233. This doesn’t include living costs during the holidays. A prospective undergraduate is far more likely to be deterred by having to find those costs from a combination of loans, part-time work, parental help and grants if lucky, than they are to be encouraged by removing a sum of money from a putative future debt, which they are never likely to have to pay anyway.
After all Labour’s hot air and hand wringing, reminiscent more of a public convenience that a political party, Ed has taken his previous distinctive policy of a direct graduate tax and binned it in favour of a small sticking plaster on the coalition’s policy of a graduate tax by another name. Both the Labour faithful and the LibDem deserters must be furious,