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Tuition fees in England: the History

by Iain Donaldson on 1 October, 2011

Who introduced Tuition Fees for University Education?

In September of 1998, with a significant majority in the House of Commons the Labour Party Government broke its manifesto commitment to students and introduced tuition fees of £ 1,000 for the first time across the UK to help with the costs of funding University tuition. Following the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly different arrangements now exist in each of the countries of the United Kingdom.

Who introduced Top Up Tuition Fees?

In January of 2004, in its second term of office, the Labour Party Government increased the level of tuition fees that Universities were allowed to charge to £ 3,000 a year, and by 2010/11 this maximum figure had increased to £ 3,290.

The Browne Report

In 2009, the Labour Party Government commissioned a report from the former Chairman of BP, John Browne, on the future viability of University Education. The Browne Review was not due until after the 2010 General Election and both the Labour and Conservative Parties agreed to abide by its decision. The Liberal Democrats stood on a manifesto platform of introducing a Graduate Tax.

What did the Browne Report say on Tuition Fees?

Published on 12th October 2010, the Browne report contained proposals for unlimited rises in tuition fees, and no bursaries for students from the poorest families. With both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party committed to these increases the Liberal Democrats were left to find an alternative that would not result in students from thousands of working class and lower middle class families being unable to afford University Tuition.

The Lib Dem alternative to Browne

With just 8% of the members of parliament, against a combined Labour Party and Conservative Party of over 70% of the Parliament the Liberal Democrats held out for a Graduation Tax, a cap on the level of fees that could be charged and bursaries for students from the poorest backgrounds.

Looking back, the Lib Dem mistake

This deal was achieved, but rather than put it to both the Liberal Democrat Party and the National Union of Students for debate and resolution, Dr Cable took the proposal direct to legislation. This was seen as being a betrayal of a pledge written by Labour Activist Aaron Porter and signed by many Lib Dem Candidates, including their MP’s, at the General Election.

How the prospective Lib Dem Leaders voted (added 21st June 2015)

Of the 2015 contenders for the Lib Dem Leadership, Tim Farron voted against the increase and Norman Lamb voted for (Lamb was a Minister and therefore bound by collective responsibility).