As I start out on my journey to the world of higher education I was surprised to switch on the TV to see former Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg speaking at the Lib Dem conference. I always wondered what exactly Nick Clegg was thinking during the run up to the 2010 General Election with the promise he made to students. I can only imagine that his thoughts were along the lines of "it's OK, we'll never be given the power to keep it anyway..."
With that in mind, I suppose it's a good thing that he didn't engrave his promise onto a memorial plaque to install on his front door. Could you imagine how he'd feel if he was reminded of his failed promise every single time he walked through his front door. At least now I suppose he can forget about it... well... until the next time he walks by a university.
Image: David Spender
During the Liberal Democrats party conference he neglected to mention the whole student fees debacle. Rather, he decided to spend his time talking about how bad an exit from the EU would be for the country. I tend to agree with him, although I wouldn't really be surprised if he changed his mind at the last minute and campaigned for us to leave. It's not like Nick Clegg has a habit of keeping his promises. Of course this would make him about as unpopular with pro-EU leaders as he is with students. If he does do this then I will be heading straight to Rustic Stone to buy him a memorial stone to his political career.
The point of how to pay for higher education is an important one. What is disappointing is that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats did not fight to remove student fees explaining that student fees are a terrible way to pay for higher education. If you don't offer loans to pay the fees then only people who could afford higher education would be able to pay for it. If you do offer loans it may push people away from continuing into higher education.
Overall, the biggest blow to the "pro-student loans" argument is that they are rarely, if ever, fully paid back. It is like trying to buy and sell currency by converting it into euros when they were almost equal to the pound, then swapping them back into pounds today when you're lucky to get 60p for each euro. It simply doesn't make any sense and will just leave the government with a huge education funding deficit.
Image: James West
The problem for the people asking the question of how to pay for higher education is that higher education seems to be regarded as a luxury. The truth is that higher education isn't a luxury, it gives a huge benefit for the whole of the country. If you have better educated citizens you will have a much better society. If politicians approach the question from the standpoint of higher education as a benefit then other solutions appear more attractive than student fees.
Perhaps a small separate tax which is ringfenced for higher education would be a better option, since higher education benefits the whole country. If you believe that graduates should all pay for their own education then a graduate tax is still better than student loans. A graduate tax would be better for future students because it would not just adversely affect future students, but it would apply to all graduates - no matter when they graduated.
It's difficult to know exactly what the best way to pay for higher education is, but if politicians can reframe the debate then I'm sure we could find a better option than the one we have today.
Going back to Nick Clegg, I think he'll probably be glad that his speech at the Lib Dems conference was overshadowed by the story of David Cameron's alleged bovine liaison. If you've not heard about it yet - check out Twitter. As an aside, during the General Election everyone thought that Ed Miliband's attempt at eating a bacon sandwich was the worst thing any politician could do to a pig. How wrong were they?
By the same token, everyone said that Nick Clegg going back on his student fees promise was the worst thing any politician could do to students. Using #piggate as a baseline - I'm a little concerned at what David Cameron might just have in store for us!