It is acutely embarrassing to hear Liberal Democrat ministers giving their support to the introduction of tuition fees. That does not make it wrong.
We fought the election on a pledge to phase out tuition fees over the lifetime of two parliaments. Those of us who emerged from university without debts, and having been able to afford books, beer and the purchase of a new bike from our student grants, don‘t like the idea that our successors should have to pay.
But times have changed and student numbers have grown.
I have long supported the introduction of a graduate tax to provide the means of funding. But Lord Browne’s proposals offer a better solution. The cost of the measures will fall on the same people, but payments will be finite not forever. They are progressive: the Institute of Fiscal Studies says they will leave the 30% of graduates on lowest incomes better off than at present.
Liberal Democrats in the Coalition are blaming the size of the deficit for the need to change policy. I’m not sure this is wholly true.
Our opposition to tuition fees was born of principle and sustained by electoral popularity. It was an indulgence. The truth is surely that it survived as party policy because in our heart of hearts we didn’t think we would be in a position to put it into practice.