Facing up to facts

by Stephen Tall on February 14, 2007

This time last year, then Lib Dem education spokesman Ed Davey – noting the drop in applications to English universities from English students – commented:

“This decline in university applicants shows student fees are already beginning to bite.”

I wonder what his successor, Sarah Teather, will say in response to the news today that applications have risen by 7.2% this year?

The reason for last year’s downward blip was evident to anyone who looked at the figures – 2005 had been a bumper year for applications (up 9.7% in England) as prospective students sensibly sought to apply to univerities before top-up fees kicked-in. It was unsurprising that 2006 saw a correction.

The Labour Government was hypocritical to introduce tuition fees, having explicitly ruled them out in its 1997 manifesto; and even more hypocritical to introduce top-up fees having explicitly ruled them out in its 2001 manifesto. As a result, parents were given less time than they should have been to prepare for their introduction, and many have found it harder to fund their kids through education as a direct result.

But it is the right policy – indeed, the only policy – which will give our universities any chance of standing on their own two feet. The Lib Dems need to start facing up to that reality.