December 14, 2010
MP: 'Why I abstained in university fees debate'
MP has explained why she abstained in last week's controversial
parliamentary vote about raising students' university fees.
Tessa Munt decided not to vote for or against the motion to increase
tuition fees in England to up to £9,000 per year.
week, she's told Burnham-On-Sea.com why she voted in this way:
am not one of life's natural abstainers. However, last Thursday,
I exercised my right under the Coalition Agreement to abstain
from voting on the proposals to allow Universities to charge increased
This was a difficult decision. I have always believed that education
should be free, and I am fundamentally opposed to government-encouraged
and sponsored debt, and to the idea of student loans.
Sadly, my view of education (funded through taxation) isn't on
the agenda. My hopes ended abruptly when Labour introduced tuition
fees almost immediately after its election success of 1997 and
the principle of free education for all fell. From that point
forward, it was inevitable that University Vice Chancellors would
seek the chance to charge more.
Had the country voted in a Lib Dem Government, our MPs would
have set a different set of priorities and dealt with the deficit
with a different set of cuts. I have no doubt we would have met
our promise to phase out tuition fees over a short number of years.
However, the Lib Dems did not form the Government, and we are
where we are - with the ability to try to negotiate a better deal.
A key question for me was whether the level of potential debt
would put bright but poorer students off going to University?
When Labour introduced student tuition fees, I thought poorer
students would be put off, but that didn't happen. In fact more
students went to University - and more of those students came
from poorer families. With the new charges, I am concerned again
- but have been assured that if there are any signs of a drop
in the number of applications from poorer students, action will
I did not vote against the proposals because they are so much
fairer than either the NUS or Labour's Lord Browne's proposals.
Last week, I had to weigh up whether my objections outlined above
were offset sufficiently by a progressive package of measures
which will ensure that:
UK students don't have to pay any fees in advance, for
the first time including more than 200,000 part-time students
each year (who are often poorer, have missed their first chance
and are often women), removing a real barrier to higher education
Universities will have a charges cap of £6,000;
only those Universities which massively improve access for less
well-off but bright students will be able to charge over £6,000
but no more than £9,000
no one will have to pay anything back until their salary
reaches a higher threshold than before (£21,000 in 2016,
uprated each year)
all graduates will repay less each month than they pay
currently under the previous Government's system
a quarter of the lowest earning graduates will repay less
overall than they have to now
over half a million more students will be eligible for
non-repayable grants of over £3,000 for living costs than
they could have now
almost one million students will be eligible for more
overall maintenance support than they can get now
students from poorer backgrounds will have an extra £150m
from a bursaries programme
there will be tough sanctions on Universities who fail
to improve their access for students from disadvantaged backgrounds
I am shocked that after so many years of a Labour Government,
the gap between rich and poor is wider than ever. What I want
is for anyone with the ability to go to University to able to
go, regardless of their personal or family financial circumstances.
Our Universities are world class and we should be proud that we
have something which students across the world want.
I have no doubt that undergraduates will question increasingly
the value of what they get for their money at University and expectations
will force changes over time. We have to question value - do degrees
in 'Golf Management' and 'Surf Science and Technology' or modules
on 'David Beckham Studies' really justify the time and costs of
attending University? Wouldn't those students be better served
using the further education system or an apprenticeship? Why do
some Universities include 'reading weeks' within the chargeable
term, when undergraduates have significant holiday periods during
which they can read?
The biggest barrier to those from poorer backgrounds going to
University is that they don't see themselves as potential graduates
and don't have this aspiration. That is why I think it is so important
that money goes into early years via the pupil premium. Closing
that gap and increasing social mobility has to be Government's