Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Liberal Democrats and higher education: more bad news?

Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg, claimed "no more broken promises" during their 2010 general election campaign. They argued that the problem with politics was that politicians said one thing on the campaign trail, but did something very different once in office. The lesson: be careful what you wish for.

Many critics argued that the Lib Dem ideal of no fees was nonsense: it was a campaign promise the party could never make good on if in government because it was not affordable. Liberal Democrats were playing the politics of perpetual opposition, biting at the heels of others to win votes without any genuine prospects of ever having to make good on any promise they offered.

This changes in 2010 where the Liberal Democrats entered into a coalition government with the Conservative Party. The coalition agreement between them committed neither side to oppose fees (nor much higher fees). The result is well known: fees for UK students will treble from about £3,000 per year to £9,000 for most courses at most universities. So much then for "no more broken promises"...

Today, there is news that a Liberal Democrat-friendly think tank, CentreForum, is recommending that the party complete the Thatcher-led overhaul of higher education. It argues that better value for money is found in the private, not public, sector. If the government wants better equipped (and resourced) labs, etc., then there is a clear answer: open higher education to more (and not less) privatisation. Research Fortnightly has the story here.

This is yet further evidence that the Liberal Democrats have abandoned many of their supporters amongst students and higher education professionals. It is also further evidence that we're watching a march to the right as Lib Dem policies, values, and strategies more closely align with the Tories. Bad news for the country generally, but very bad news for many Liberal Democrat supporters.

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