Cable gets his facts wrong on tuition fees

The Business Secretary is wrong to claim that most universities aren’t planning to charge £9,000.

David Cameron was unable to tell the Commons how many universities plan to charge £9,000 a year in tuition fees at yesterday's PMQs.

Now it appears that Vince Cable, the man with ministerial responsibility for the reforms, isn't sure either.

According to PoliticsHome, the Business Secretary told the House:

There is no hole in the finances. If he follows the public announcement that universities have made, he will have seen that, of the 36 that we are aware of, 13 are planning to charge the maximum and many of those will have substantial fee remission under the Oxford model.

In fact, of the 23 institutions that have publicly announced their plans (it's unclear where the figure of 36 comes from), 18 plan to charge £9,000, the latest being Bath. The reality is that, despite Cable's insistence that universities would only charge the maximum amount in "exceptional circumstances", most now plan to do so. The NUS president, Aaron Porter, originally predicted that 50 per cent would charge full whack, but even that looks like an underestimate.

As a result, due to the huge amounts it will have to pay out in tuition-fee loans, the coalition finds its reforms facing a £1bn funding gap. Cable's claim that "there is no hole in the finances" is not supported by evidence.

As I noted earlier this week, new figures from the House of Commons Library show that if the average fee is £8,600, the state will have to spend £960m more over the next four years. That could mean even bigger cuts to the teaching budget (already facing an 80 per cent reduction) or 38,000 fewer university places. It is time for ministers to tell us their Plan B.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Angela Rayner - from teenage mum to the woman who could unify Labour

Corbyn-supporting Rayner mentioned Tony Blair in her speech. 

For those at the Labour party conference feeling pessimistic this September, Angela Rayner’s speech on education may be a rare moment of hope. 

Not only did the shadow education secretary capitalise on one of the few issues uniting the party – opposition to grammar schools – and chart a return to left-wing policies, but she did so while paying tribute to the New Labour legacy. 

Rayner grew up on a Stockport council estate, raised by a mother who could not read nor write. She was, she reminded conference, someone who left school a no-hoper. 

"I left school at 16 pregnant and with no qualifications. Some may argue I was not a great role model for young people. The direction of my life was already set.

"But something happened. Labour's Sure Start centres gave me and my friends, and our children, the support we needed to grow and develop."

Rayner has shown complete loyalty to Jeremy Corbyn throughout the summer, taking two briefs in the depopulated shadow cabinet and speaking at his campaign events.

Nevertheless, as someone who practically benefited from Labour’s policies during its time in government, she is unapologetic about its legacy. She even mentioned the unmentionable, declaring: “Tony Blair talked about education, education, education. Theresa May wants segregation, segregation, segregation.”

As for Rayner's policies, a certain amount of realism underpins her rhetoric. She wants to bring back maintenance grants for low-income students, and the Educational Maintenance Allowance for those in further education. 

But she is not just offering a sop to the middle class. A new childcare taskforce will focus on early education, which she describes as “the most effective drivers of social mobility”. 

Rayner pledged to “put as much effort into expanding, technical, vocational education and meaningful apprenticeships, as we did with higher education”. She declared: "The snobbery about vocational education must end."

Tory critics have questioned the ability of a woman who left school at 16 to be an education secretary, Rayner acknowledged. “I may not have a degree - but I have a Masters in real life,” she said. It could have sounded trite, but her speech delivered the goods. Perhaps she will soon earn her PhD in political instincts too.