You want a good degree? Pay up

The only universities not charging the maximum amount for top-up fees are among the worst in the cou

The trickle of universities that plan to charge £9,000 from September 2012 has become a stream. It will undoubtedly turn into a flood over the coming weeks.

In the past few days, University College London, Surrey, Aston and Essex have all confirmed that they will charge the maximum amount. As have Birmingham and Lancaster. The universities minister, David Willetts, had previously stated that he expected £9,000 fees to be charged only in "exceptional circumstances". Far from the exception, £9,000 fees are proving the norm – except in a few cases.

One university that will not charge full whack is London Metropolitan University. London Met has a less-than-exemplary reputation. It dropped out of the Times's university rankings (£) after nearly coming last five years ago (it will reappear in them next year, however). In 2009, LMU was in the bottom four of the student satisfaction survey. In this year's Guardian rankings, the university came rock bottom. LMU will charge "between £6,000 and £7,000" per place from 2012. Another university set to charge less than £9,000 is Liverpool Hope University. It, too, dropped out of the Times university rankings after coming bottom.

This sets a grim precedent. The only universities to announce that they will charge less than £9,000 are among the worst in the country. This might sound harsh and dismissive of the efforts of staff and students at these institutions, but sadly it is true. League tables may have their faults, but by practically every indicator, these universities come near the bottom.

Yet these are the institutions that students who fear debt will be drawn towards. Indeed, that is the only reason these universities are willing to charge less than the maximum for undergraduate tuition fees. If you have low standards, you have to have low prices.

The public message, then, is depressingly simple: pay top rate, or get a second-rate degree.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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