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11 November 2010

Nick Clegg’s dishonest defence of his fees U-turn

The decision to triple tuition fees was a political choice, not an economic necessity.

By George Eaton

Nick Clegg has issued a rather grudging apology for reneging on his election pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees. “I should have been more careful, perhaps,” was all he would say.

He added:

At the time I really thought we could do it. I just didn’t know, of course, before we came into government, quite what the state of the finances were [sic].

Clegg’s suggestion that “things were even worse than we thought” is dishonest. In the period between the election and the coalition taking power, the state of the public finances improved, rather than worsened. Just ten days after Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister, the deficit was revised downwards from £163.4bn to £156bn, having previously stood at £178bn.

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As the sixth-largest economy in the world, Britain can easily afford to fund free higher education through general taxation. In public expenditure terms, the UK currently spends just 0.7 per cent of its GDP on higher education, well below the OECD average of 1 per cent and a lower level than France (1.2 per cent), Germany (0.9 per cent), Canada (1.5 per cent), Poland (0.9 per cent) and Sweden (1.4 per cent). Even the United States, where students make a considerable private contribution, spends 1 per cent of its GDP on higher education – 0.3 per cent more than the UK does.

The coalition’s decision to triple tuition fees was a political choice, not an economic necessity. We are still waiting for an honest explanation from Clegg.