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Stephen Williams MP drops his pledge on scrapping fees

A Parent | 10.11.2010 01:22

Never trust a politician eh?
I write in relation to your recent front page article. As a parent of a child studying for A-levels, who hopes to go to university in due course, I like many parents was very worried by the recent Browne review on higher education funding. So I thought I'd write to my MP Stephen Williams to ask if he was maintaining his anti-fees position. That was some weeks ago. I finally got a reply on Monday, along no doubt with many other enquirers. His reply to me/us also went up on his website that day. And guess what?

The original pledge you quote from is no longer so easy to find on his website, where it was originally listed under 'Key Issues', but has been replaced by his new position. However if you do a search the pledges are still there. Like here for example - article on his site from 16/11/2009
Which begins: "Stephen Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West, signed a pledge to voters ahead of the forthcoming general election that he will vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament." Sounds good doesn't it!

Not any more...his new position on Fees under 'Key issues' is at
It starts: "I signed the National Union of Students (NUS) pledge in November 2009 because I have always believed that we need a fairer and more progressive model of University funding. The platform on which I stood for election in May 2010 was of course the Liberal Democrat Manifesto, which after the election was superseded by the Coalition Agreement." Read that again wont the man stands for election on a list of policies...but ditches them within a week of the election. Trustworthy or what? The LibDem manifesto, on which people voted for them, all of a sudden gets soon as they get a sniff of power. So now we know its true - never trust a politician. Bye bye Stephen Williams. Stuednts and students to be...go get him!

His new, flexible, brown-nosing position continues...
"The Government’s response to Lord Browne’s review of higher education funding demonstrates a commitment to increasing participation by young people from poor backgrounds:

* Fees capped at £6,000 for most universities, £9,000 in exceptional cases
* Graduates will begin to contribute to their undergraduate fees when they earn £21,000, rather than the current £15,000 threshold – this will reduce the monthly amount that all graduates pay
* Graduate contributions will be paid for thirty years at a rate of 9% on earnings over £21,000. The outstanding debt (£18,000 in most cases) will continue to have a zero real rate of interest for graduates earning less than £21,000. For graduates earning above that level a real rate of interest will apply, up to a maximum of 3% of the rest of those earnings in excess of £41,000. This clearly means poorer graduates might pay nothing at all while well paid graduates will pay considerably more than their undergraduate fee
* The top earning 30% of graduates will pay back more than they borrow and are likely to pay more than double the bottom 20% of earners
* Measures will be put in place to prevent richer graduates contributing less than their poorer counterparts by paying off their fees early
* £150m for a National Scholarship Programme for young people from deprived backgrounds
* Universities that choose to charge a higher graduate contribution than the £6,000 threshold will be obliged to participate in the National Scholarship Programme – possibly by matching the Government’s funding
* Sanctions will be imposed on universities that do not widen participation and access for poorer students
* More help with living costs for lower income students – an increase of £350 to the maintenance grant for students from families earning up to £25,000
* More help for students from middle income families – an increase in the threshold for support to £42,000 and an increase in maintenance loans for students from families earning £42,000-60,000
* Part-time students, who tend to be older or from more deprived backgrounds, will be entitled to enter the graduate contribution scheme on the same basis as full-time students - a major positive change that corrects a long standing anomaly
* Universities will have to publish the information that students and parents need - contact hours, teaching patterns and employment outcomes
* Overall the lowest earning 25% of graduates will pay less than they do at present

Under the tuition fee system introduced by Labour:
* Poorest and richest graduates pay exactly the same
* Graduates have to start paying back when earning just £15,000
* Part-time students have to pay upfront fees (part-time students are 40% of all students)
* Labour failed to reform system which entrenches disadvantage:

-In 2009, 50% of young people from the most advantaged areas entered higher education compared to 20% from the most disadvantaged areas
-The number of poor students attending top universities has not significantly changed since the 1990s

My entire political career I have championed social mobility and the need to tackle inequality; I grew up on free school meals and do not doubt that the support I received at school and university enabled me to be in the position I am today. Unfortunately, with the increase in the number of people attending university and the budget deficit the Coalition inherited from the previous government, it is simply not possible to fund a free higher education system for everyone. However, I strongly believe that the Coalition’s education policy will ensure that young people are able to go to university regardless of their parents’ income. Through the Pupil Premium the Coalition will ensure that children from poor backgrounds receive extra support in school and our new funding model for university will mean that poor students will continue to be supported throughout their undergraduate years and into their graduate careers.

I made it clear in the run up to the general election that I had no philosophical objection to graduates making a financial contribution to their degrees. But I argued that a contribution scheme should be progressive and related to graduate earnings; I think the government’s proposals meet my objectives. The other issue that I have always shared is that we must go further to encourage young people from poor backgrounds to access university. The announcement of the new National Scholarship Scheme with £150m government funding is certainly a huge improvement. But before deciding whether the government had gone far enough I want to see the detailed rules for universities providing matching funds and for their fair access policies. It is only at that point that I will be able to support the government.
I hope that this email has been useful to you. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any further comments or questions."
Yours sincerely,
Stephen Williams MP

A Parent
- Original article on IMC Bristol: