The question Aaron Porter refuses to answer


Aaron Porter

Aaron Porter, the NUS President has consistently failed to answer one question.  This one question remains the elephant in the room for the NUS, and will continue to leave them open to accusations of politicising tuition fees until it is answered. The question…”Is the proposed package of student tuition fees fairer than the current system?”


I suspect, the reason that Aaron will not (or cannot) answer this question is because the answer is simply yes.  The system being proposed is fairer than what we currently have.  How can this be I hear you cry, when the newspapers are filled with accusations of £9,000 a year tuition fees.  Lets run through some of the positives in the package that Aaron seems so unwilling to talk about (when despite them having such a massive impact on student’s lives).

1) No part-time student will pay up front to go to university. For the first time in decades, up-front charges for part-time students will be scrapped.  Part-time students currently make up about 40% of the student population and are essentially discriminated against.  This will end under the new package.

2) The repayment on Student loans will be shifted away from the current system towards a weighted system that takes into account you’re to pay.  At the moment, everyone earning £15,000 starts paying back the same, regardless of their income.  The new proposal will lift the figure where you start to pay back your loan from £15,000 to £21,000.  This means, if you earn less than 21,000 and stay there you pay back nothing! It also means that if you lose your job or take a sabbatical, your repayments are frozen.  Equally, if after 30 years you still have out standing debt, it gets written off.  This means that if you do not benefit financially from university, you do not lose out financially.

Graduates who DO earn over 21,000 will start to repay their loans at a rate of 9% of their earnings above 21,000.  This means, that repayment, per month will be lower for all students than the current scheme.  As your income increases, so the interest rate on the loan increases (in a similar fashion to staggered income tax levels).  In balance, this means the lowest earning 25% of graduates will pay back LESS than they currently do, and the top 30% of earners will pay back more than they borrow.

3) Support for living costs will increase for families earning up to 45,000.  Extra money is being put into grants for living costs and an extra loan will be made available to these students.  It is an improvement again on the current system.

4) The headline £9,000 a year will be in a minority of cases.  If a university wants to charge more than £6,000 they will have to meet targets to ensure they attract a more diverse range of students, specifically students from poorer backgrounds.  In the UK, our university education system still excludes the poor.  This is something that we should be ashamed about.  Less than a fifth of the poorest quarter of our society make it to university.  This package will create a National Scholarship Programme for students on low incomes – offering the first years tuition free.  There will be a greater emphasis put on the university to work with poorer schools to appeal to their students.

Do I think this system that is being proposed is fair? No! Do I think it is fairer than the current system? Yes! Why can’t Aaron Porter say this? Sadly, I suspect that Aaron Porter’s membership to the Labour Party might well be clouding his judgement on this issue. He seems incapable of criticising New Labour (who had an election pledge to scrap tuition fees and then went back on it despite having a massive majority).

His union has started a campaign to target some of the most progressive MP’s in Parliament. An example is Sarah Teather (The one who established the all party group on Guantanamo Bay, was found to be spotlessly clean in the expenses scandal and was one of the fiercest opponents to the war in Iraq).  How can Aaron Porter honestly believe “decapitating” (his word not mine) an MP like Sarah is a good thing for students? It again, makes a mockery of student politics presenting students as incapable of thinking about anything other than this one issue.  It undermines students and does NOT represent them.

It is, in my opinion, time Aaron Porter started playing grown up politics and working with the Lib-Dems who are a junior partner in a coalition government and are committed to working for a fairer system.  The Lib-Dems in government have made it fairer but we are still left in a hugely unfair system.  It is about time the NUS slipped a little subtlety into their arguments.



Filed under Economics, Politics

5 responses to “The question Aaron Porter refuses to answer

  1. Pingback: Tuition Fees – The elephant in the room | Hynd's Blog

  2. – Fisrt point you make is very very important. In the end, the amount of money it costs to go to uni is almost insignificant, what is far more important is people’s perception of money, and sadly, I suspect that the thought of 6-9,000 pounds year will put some people off even considering uni.

    – It is the case; under the proposals that you do not start paying back your loan until you earn 21,000 grand. Under the old system you started to pay back after 15,000. They way the gov’t makes money (not save) is by having a progressive interest rate system on the loans, so those who earn the most (over 21,000) will pay back the most. Thus, the rich subsidising the system.

    – Indeed, Will Hutton made the point that this move would be a lot more palatable if the money was going to improve students learning experience at uni. Sadly, it is not. This is a travesty. Although, savings have to come from somewhere.

    – Tory’s too have had to compromise on their core messages and incorporate some of the libdems core messages. See m response to Martin (above) on morals of coalition ethics.

    – Students should have been more vocal and angry with Labour who bought in tuition fees in an economic era of boom. Even then, the money did not go to improve students experience at uni.



    • UnKnown

      I just had a few comments:
      – Your point about it potentially easier for those who are worse off to go to uni is flawed as i suspect the idea of being saddled with massive debts is enough to put many off
      – What about interest on your debt – when is it paid and by whom? If you don’t have to pay interest before you start earning lots (which i doubt is the case?) then how does this save the gov so much money?
      – Students feel cheated because they are being asked to pay massively more for the same service – they do not get more than previous generations for their money – they are footing the bill for a financial collapse that was not their fault
      – Of course in coalition you have to compromise, but not on your core messages. Libdems had a massive following among students and their policies were the basis on which many students voted for them – on this basis students have a right to be angry
      – Students should have been more vocal and angry under new labour too which completely mucked around with uni – it is interesting to analyse why now… Gotta get off the train now but so much more to say on this


  3. Martin Whiteside

    Ummmm – not sure. It is good to see a bit more analysis of what is being proposed. BUT the basic tenant is that it is OK to launch young people into adult life with massive debts, hugely complex repayment systems that presumably could be changed by future governments, and that if you can’t afford it it is OK not to repay your debts. This to me is reinforcing our ‘Take now and perhaps pay later’ approach that is destroying our planet.

    The idea that scholarships would give 1st year tuition free (but get into debt during the next two!) reminds me of the ISP adverts offering broadband for £4.99 per month – when you read the small print that is for the first three months – after which it is £14.99. I don’t like companies offering this sort of false inducement… not sure it is right for Government either!

    The proposed system may or may-not be marginally fairer than the existing – I expect lawyers could argue either way! The fact is that Lib-dems said the existing system is fundamentally wrong and pledged to vote against it. The proposed system is, as you say, still fundamentally unfair. Were those pledges worth anything?

    There are interesting questions about whether policies committed to by parties in elections still hold in coalition. The politics of compromise need to be balanced against the politics of principle? Interesting times!


    • Your last paragraph hits the crux of the issue around how you perceive the morality of coalition politics. If you vote down certain policies you are opposed to, then you are essentially left with nothing, as you are left in a situation where any policy might be voted down (in other words there is a need for a compromise if a coalition government is to be effective and not paralysed by internal difference). Yet, if you vote against something that is fundamental to your very being, then you really lose the reason you are in politics in the first place.

      I guess the question then is, Are tuition fees such an important issue that you should risk bringing down a government?

      Another interesting point is the internal difference within all the major parties about whether students should pay anything for education. The Lib Dems and Greens remain the only parties with official positions against tuition fees…yet it is clear there are members of the Tories, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens who are supportive of fee based HE. I guess voters might need to move away from party colours on this one and look at the specific MP’s (and hopefully any half thinking individual will look beyond tuition fees when they are considering whether or not to vote for someone like Sarah Teather).


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