The University of Bristol's Vice-Chancellor is facing questions from the student body after he signed an open letter which warned against Labour's plans to reduce tuition fees. This controversial move in the higher education debate has come shortly after there have been student protests at the university demanding free education. As the general election nears, the parties promising to reduce, or even abolish, tuition fees are gaining momentum amongst students.
Unfortunately - especially in Bristol where I study - students seem to be turning towards the Green Party solely on the basis of their promise to scrap tuition fees. In 2010 this promise was the pride of the Lib Dems. Today however, the majority of their MPs are resigned to the fact that their student support crumbled beyond repair when they voted in favour of the tuition fee rise. I myself was a Clegg supporter in 2010, and I too lost faith in the party after the tuition fee rise. However, I now wish to put forward a different case. This is that students would be being both irrational and selfish to vote solely on the basis of their obsession with free higher education.
Students as a demographic have always been, and probably always will be, protest voters. They crave the anti-establishment parties which claim to offer some sort of utopia. But, it is not a coincidence that the less power a party has, the more outlandish promises they will make in the run up to an election. So, whilst the protest vote is heard, it rarely filters into policy. That said, it can be positive for small parties to gain an MP or two; Caroline Lucas has been a fantastic MP. Lucas is an exception though. I do not believe that a majority Green government would be beneficial for Britain. Their policies simply don't make sense. None more so than their leader's claim that we should not be striving for economic growth.
What has been seen in the European elections, and is likely to be the case for the general election, is that the majority of those who supported Lib Dem in 2010 will fall into two categories: Those on the left will turn to the Greens, and those on the right will turn to UKIP. One need look no further than a student from my old school for evidence of this. Joe Jenkins was a proud Lib Dem supporter in 2010, but in 2015 he will be running as a candidate for UKIP against Nick Clegg in Sheffield, all because of tuition fees.
The problem is, tuition fees aren't really the problem for students. Ask yourself this: have you ever heard of a student complaining about how they cannot afford to live because of tuition fees. As a group we constantly complain about being poor, but we haven't lost a penny to tuition fees yet, and we won't do until we're earning over £21,000 a year: a salary which is well above minimum wage. The real problem which does worry students is the pitiful maintenance loan which in most cities in the country, and certainly in Bristol, doesn't cover rent, let alone bills, food and all the other costs which come from general living. This is what students must turn their attention to as there is real evidence of a problem, not just the moaning of those who only half understand the fee system.
I myself support free tuition fees. It is an ideal that I believe is attainable and would be beneficial for the country. However, the system as it is works just like a graduate tax, and there are bigger problems with the state of this country than being taxed a lot when you're earning a decent salary. So, before turning to Greens or UKIP, consider just how important tuition fees are, and vote in proportion to this. After all, if we aim for negative economic growth as the Greens would have it, or leave the EU as UKIP bang on about, then there will be far worse consequences for education than high tuition fees.