Denham demands transparency on fees
The Labour Party will attempt to delay the vote on tuition fees unless the Coalition “comes clean” on the whole of its university funding policy, according to John Denham, the Shadow Secretary for Business, Skills and Innovation.
In an exclusive interview with Arts London News, Denham said that MPs shouldn’t be asked to make a choice on tuition fees until a number of questions have been answered.
The vote is due to take place before Christmas but Denham revealed: “We are going to put the pressure on in Parliament, and outside, for a delay in the vote until the government comes clean on its policy.
“You can’t ask people to vote for an increase in fees without telling people what the rest of the policy is going to look like.”
Denham feels that there are too many grey areas in the government plans, such as the issue of access for poorer students and how interest rates on loans will operate.
Furthermore, and described as “a real worry” by Denham, is the recent confusion around the income level at which students would have to start paying back their loans.
The government has proposed that the repayment threshold be raised from the current level of £15,000 to £21,000 - an increase of £6,000.
However, as this will only come into effect in 2016, and not 2012 as proposed by Lord Browne, the real-terms increase is estimated to be in the region of just £2,500 - less than half of what many had originally believed.
It is also unclear as to whether the new repayment level will be increased periodically, again as suggested by Browne.
Denham reaffirmed his party’s preference for a ‘graduate tax’ scheme, which would take a percentage of graduate’s salaries in proportion to their earnings to pay back tuition fees. The Labour MP was reluctant to go into much detail, despite his claims of ambiguity from the Coalition.
However, Denham was clear in underlining the main difference in policy between the Coalition government and the Labour party on this subject.
The Coalition plan to withdraw funding from all undergraduate courses bar a few ‘priority subjects’ such as science and maths, whilst Labour “want to maintain the principle of publicly funded higher education.”
When asked about Deputy Liberal Democrat leader, Simon Hughes’ previous attack on NUS president Aaron Porter, Denham explained: “It’s a bit rich from Simon Hughes, who promised to vote against tuition fee rises, to accuse other people of the wrong motives.”
“I don’t know what it means if you say ‘I will not vote in favour of fee increases’, and then you vote in favour of fee increases. It sounds like a broken promise to me.”