Yesterday in a tense and emotional atmosphere, with student protest around Parliament, MPs voted by 323 to 302 votes to raise tuition fees from just over £3000, to £6000, and potentially to £9000.
I was one of the 302 who voted against that government proposal. Five other Conservative and twenty one Liberal Democrat colleagues joined me in the ‘No’ lobby. It is not easy to vote with only a minority of my side of the House but I know that it was also not easy for many MPs who did vote with the government to make their decision. I also pay tribute to Tracey Crouch MP who was as principled in her abstention as those of us who voted either for or against.
I found it particularly difficult to justify the suddenness of the move with one student required to pay only around £3000 but then another student, potentially a sister just one year behind at school, expected to pay two or three times more with very little warning. I also believe that as MPs we should make decisions and whenever possible try and explain those likely decisions before an election, rather than use a report from someone who is not elected, however distinguished, to justify a decision (the Browne Report).
I was enormously impressed by the students who put their case to me on this issue. They asked me why they should have to pay so much when Welsh and Scottish and in many cases EU students did not have to pay at all. I then showed David Willetts, the universities minister, detailed statistics showing that 46% of EU students due to repay a loan from the British taxpayer were in default. I have also asked govenment ministers how thay can justify an 80% decrease in grant to universities in the context of a 60% increase in our net payments to the EU.
I cannot justify it, and voted accordingly.