Tuition fees: what Lib Dem members think now (3 of 3)

by Stephen Tall on January 11, 2011

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Over 660 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results over the next few days.

It’s almost three months since Lib Dem Voice last asked party members what they thought about tuition fees. So we asked three questions to gauge members’ views now the dust has settled … a little.

Part I: Demonstrations against the fee rises
Part II: 51% to 49% backing for Coalition’s policy on tuition fees …

Part III: Overwhleming majority still back party policy of scrapping tuition fees

LDV asked: The party’s Federal Policy Committee has confirmed that – irrespective of the Coalition’s stance – “the Liberal Democrat party policy remains to phase out tuition fees”. Do you support the inclusion of this commitment in the party’s next election manifesto?

  • 71% – Support
  • 29% – Oppose
  • (Excluding Other, Don’t know / No opinion 14%)

Though it might seem contradictory for more than half Lib Dem members to back the Coalition’s policy to increase fees at the same time as over 70% back the party’s long-standing policy to scrap fees the logic is clear enough: many felt that the proposals put forward by Nick Clegg and Vince Cable were the best available deal given the current Parliamentary arithmetic, with the Tories and Labour both pro-fees, but would want to scrap fees in the event of the Lib Dems winning a majority.

However, it’s clear from the comments — and, yes, I waded through the hundreds submitted — that very few members think the party can credibly repeat its existing manifesto commitment again in 2015. A high number of commenters, including many who back scrapping fees, argued the party risked turning itself into a laughing stock if it committed to reversing a policy it had helped enact. Many said the manifesto should commit the party to a reduction in fees rather than their complete abolition (other than as a long-term aim).

Here’s a sample of party members’ comments:

Within the constraints of Government, we’ve had to find an acceptable alternative. However, as a party, we should all be committed to providing free education.

Support, but please make it clear that we can only do what is within our power to do this, and that whilst an important issue, we’re far from a single issue party on this.

Bringing fees down should be a sign of a progressive society.

The next manifesto should be more clear about this being a long-term goal. The specific objective for the next parliament should be to reduce fees.

… if it’s in our manifesto and we again end up in a coalition as a minority partner we would not be able to implement it -let’s not get hoist with our own petard again!

If there is one way to make ourselves a bigger laughing stock on this issue than we already are, this has to be it. The party needs to grow up and face reality.

How can Lib Dem MP’s who voted in favour of a fee rise then campaign to abolish in 2015? Nick will look ridiculous in future leaders debate arguing to scrap tuition fees. I oppose fees but our policy at the next election must be to maintain but no further rise.

It makes us look faintly ridiculous given our action in government, but it is, and should remain, our policy. That’s not to say anyone will believe us…

We should support this aim but we will be laughed at and pilloried if we put it in a manifesto again.

The next Manifesto needs to be a clear statement of OUR principles and priorities, but with a clear caveat that parts of the Manifesto would be negotiable in any post-election Coalition.

I think we should wait and see how this market-led led system works in practice before deciding any policy on higher education funding. I do not think the public would believe us if we pledged to abolish tuition fees at the next general election in any case.

If universities are fully funded by the state then academics risk becoming responsible to governmental policies rather than to the needs of their students.

I think it looks ridiculous to have a coalition Lib Dem policy and a Federal Policy at odds with each other. The electorate will not be impressed.

If we have a costed plan to get rid of tuition fees in the future, then by all means we should include it in the manifesto. But we’re going to need to have a good argument as to why people should believe us that we would (I have no problems understanding the difference between coalition action and Lib Dem policy, but sections of the electorate won’t be so unforgiving).

Nobody believes us on this issue – this should have been a red line issue in the coalition negotiations, given that we pledged to abolish tuition fees – agreeing abstention was a cop-out and we have paid and will pay dearly for this. Possibly the worst decision ever.

We need the fee arrangemnet to keep the Universities going. Lib Dems should concentrate on improving the maintenance (living) grant for children from less wealthy families.

I feel that students should contribute to their university education, as the numbers of people currently wishing to attend university cannot be sustainably funded through general taxation in my opinion.

I think, in light of the changes to a more progressive system, and the additional costs that would now be associated with the elimination of tuition fees, it is necessary that this policy is fully costed, debated and reviewed – not simply carried forwards.

  • Over 1,300 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 662 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 3rd and 9th January.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll