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Nick Clegg and Vince Cable highlight Liberal Democrat achievements in higher education

by Ian Shires on 26 February, 2014

Caron Lindsay
Published on Liberal Democrat Voice
By  |
Tue 25th February 2014 – 9:47 pm

When I went to speak in the St Andrew’s University debate last week, I did a bit of what I described as getting the tin opener and the worm can perilously close to each other, but pointed out that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds were twice as likely to go to university as they were 10 years ago. I also pointed out that those graduates on the lowest incomes would be paying much less than they were under Labour.

I was greatly assisted in preparing my remarks by Stephen Tall’s piece in January on the latest data in which he said:

Here are three key points from the data:

  • Taking account of population changes, application rates for 18 year olds across the whole of the UK are at, or near, their highest levels.

  • An unprecedented 35% of 18 year olds from England have submitted a UCAS application this year.

  • Young people from the most disadvantaged areas in England are now almost twice as likely to apply as they were in 2004, significantly closing the gap with those from the most advantaged areas over the last decade.

It is important that we make sure that the actual effects of our actions in government get out there, on our terms. I’m glad that Nick Clegg  today made a major speech on the subject. Whoever put it up on the party website needs to get familiar with the indefinite article. Anyway, he said:

This may not have been the policy my party wanted, but I made absolutely sure that it wouldn’t turn a degree into a luxury for the very rich.

I made sure that no student pays a penny up front – you don’t pay anything back until you leave university, get a job and you’re earning at least £21,000.

I made sure that your repayments depend on your salary – so, if you earn less, you pay back less every month.

I made sure that, if you don’t earn enough to pay it back, eventually the money you owe is written off.

I made sure it’s actually easier than before for disadvantaged young people to get a degree by increasing the grants and support that’s available and by forcing universities to open up their doors and attract more students from lower income homes.

I understand why, when I said these things at the time, people were sceptical. That certainly wasn’t helped by some of the wild predictions being thrown around: student numbers would plummet; university places would need to be slashed; for thousands of Britain’s young people a university degree would become a thing of the past.

But not only have these predictions failed to materialise – the exact opposite has happened.

We now have the highest application rates ever.

More young men and women are going full-time to university than ever before.

A higher proportion of students from poorer backgrounds are going than ever before – 18 year olds from disadvantaged homes are actually 70% more likely to enter Higher Education than they were ten years ago.

Entry rates for students from nearly every ethnic minority are at their highest level ever.

So to all of you, to each and every one of you: if a degree is what you want, you can still have it – you’ve just got to work hard. We’ve even removed the arbitrary cap on the number of university places available so as many people who want to go, can.

Tonight, Vince Cable emailed party members to let them know about the speech. He said:

Today, Nick Clegg has laid out our record on higher education.

It’s a record that demonstrates that we are committed to helping everyone to get on in life, whether that’s through university, apprenticeships, or work. And it’s a record that shows that the difficult decisions we made back in 2010 are having a positive effect on those students we most need to encourage into university.

I know that tuition fees have been hard to discuss on the doorstep. We have expressed regret that it was not possible to deliver in office a commitment made in opposition. But we have, in government, created a fairer system in which no one pays upfront fees, and payments operates like a form of graduate tax, payable in a progressive way linked to income. So let’s make clear what our record is:

This year, we have had the highest application rates to university ever and the highest number of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Over half a million students will be entitled to receive grants for living costs that they will never have to pay back.

Up to a quarter of the lowest paid graduates will end up paying back less than they would have under the previous system.

Nearly 200,000 students studying their first degree part time won’t have any up-front fees to pay, as they did under Labour.

Most importantly, today our most disadvantaged teenagers are 70% more likely to go to university than they were 10 years ago.

This doesn’t wipe the slate clean. But voters need to know the facts. Their children and grandchildren, no matter who they are, are more likely to attend university because of Liberal Democrats in government.

And the savings we have made have enabled us to protect adult education, and to plough more resources into apprenticeships for many of the 60% who do not go to universities.

That’s a record on higher education that I’m proud to share.

Yours, Vince Cable Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills

The memories of 3 years ago on tuition fees are painful. At the time, I was furious that we had got ourselves into the situation in the first place, but I recognised that our Vince was not the Devil. The facts now show that a university education is now more accessible to all than it was ten years ago. Not only that, but for those who don’t go to university, we’ve made sure more apprenticeships are available for young people. 1.25 million of them. Youth unemployment is still higher than it should be, but with 49,000 young people finding jobs in the last 3 months, things are definitely improving.

* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron’s Musings

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