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You may wonder why I’m writing to you, why I’m not bothering Nick Clegg like every other student and academic in the country seems to be. Surely I don’t think I can appeal to your better nature, or sense of social justice?
Well the thing is, I can kind of understand where you are coming from. Primarily, you want to save money to reduce the deficit. It’s likely you also want to bribe the vice-chancellors of famous universities to take the fee increase and not care about anything else, and let the private sector compete directly with publicly funded provision. You pretty obviously couldn’t care less about lecturers or students – I comprehend that position, even though I (obviously) disagree with you.
>With Nick – bless him and his little hangdog face and the dead eyes – I don’t know what he wants, other than (apparently) to lose his seat in 2015. So I can’t make a cogent argument to him and have any idea of how he’ll respond to it. He’s not making any sense at the moment, so I can’t use sense to argue with him.
Anyway, David, this reform of the funding of Higher Education thing. You’ve always been keen to link it to deficit and debt reduction. On 11 November 2010, in China, you said (during an interview on student fees where you condemned students doing to CCHQ what the Bullingdon Club have done to countless Oxfordshire restaurants):
“I think the will of the public was expressed at the time of the election when they rejected debt and deficit and putting off these difficult decisions under Labour, and they chose a new approach and we’ve got to be true to that and stick to that“
I want to hold you to that promise. To work to reduce the deficit. I’d like you to comment on my new proposal for higher education funding that will save you at least £5bn within this parliament on what you are currently proposing. Remembering the commitment of your Chancellor to “eliminate the bulk of the structural current budget deficit over a parliament” (24 Feb 2010).
The proposal is this: leave things exactly how they are. Don’t change anything.
And that’s at least an extra £5bn in the coffers, helping you hit your deficit target. It also has the pleasing side effects of keeping students and academic staff happy, making the university sector more sustainable, offering them fiancial stability and ending nearly a month of civil unrest. But forget about all that hoodie-hugging liberal stuff (you already have? excellent.) – it saves the country money. Keep hold of that idea.
You’ve linked the new proposals to the deficit so often you may be in danger of starting to believe your own spin. But in retreating from your policy you would be following the advice of the independent Office for Budgetary Responsibility, who note:
“For the November forecast the OBR has scrutinised and certified estimates of the additional loans [the loans in respect of increased student fees] that have been produced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) for England. As the table shows, the impact on the CGNCR [Central Government Net Cash Requirement] is estimated to reach £5.6 billion by 2015-16, cumulatively adding £13 billion to PSND [Public Sector Net Debt] over the forecast period.” (pp123-124, in “Box 4.3″)
The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) agree that:
“We do not need any sophisticated modeling to work out that in cash terms, the proposals will increase public expenditure through this Parliament and into the next.” (para 11)
And the Institute of Fiscal Studies add, using your own assumptions and figures, that:
“The main loser of the Government’s proposed system is the taxpayer: the reduction in maintenance grants is more than outweighed by the cost of not imposing a levy. At higher fee levels, this becomes an increasingly important factor: if all universities charged £9,000 a year, we calculate that total the taxpayer burden of higher education would only be slightly lower than it is at the moment (by around £770 per graduate)” (November 2010 IFS Observation)
HEPI sound a note of caution regarding the assumptions used by BIS (and the OBR and the IFS) around future graduate income. Apparently, in trying to balance the proposal you have decided (there really is no other word) that:
“the average graduate earning for men is assumed to increase to £99,500 pa (in real terms, at 2016 prices) by the end of the repayment period”
This is clearly nonsense. That’s more than an MP earns. It’s more than you got as Leader of the Opposition.
Turning to the question of whether this new funding model will save any money at all, HEPI (after a great deal of analysis) conclude:
“So the answer to the question, “will the proposals decrease the public contribution to HE” is, “it’s too close to call, but they could actually easily lead to a small increase in the public contribution”
Not only will the current proposals not save any money when you need it (this parliament), it is very likely that they will never save any money at all. And, before you start with that “playing the man not the ball” stuff you usually do in that charming Eton-and-Oxford way, HEPI are unimpeachably neutral, and probably know more about English HE funding than anyone outside of HEFCE.
So David – my message to you is this: Ditch the proposals and cut the deficit, or go with your ideology and drive the UK deeper in to debt.
I hope you’ll make the difficult decision that the country needs at this time of crisis. I await your response with interest.
P.S: I have drawn some elements of this mail from Andrew Harding’s post at LeftFootForward. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @2me2you2me