Lord Browne: Labour shouldn’t ‘mess around’ with tuition fees cap

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Lord Browne, who headed the review that recommended the current tuition fees system, has criticised Labour’s plans to ‘mess around’ with it.

Ed Miliband today announced that a Labour government would cut the cap on tuition fees by a third, from its current level of £9,000 to £6,000.

Lord Browne – who headed the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance that led to the current system – commented on the rumoured Labour policy at the LGBT Leaders conference last week, at which PinkNews was the exclusive media partner.

The gay cross-bench peer said of the plans: “I don’t [agree].

“If you look back at how many times the system has been messed around… it’s creating a lot of instability in what is a part of the nation that requires quite a high degree of stability.

“They are in the business not just of educating people, but of creating the substance that will educate people two decades ahead. Research, all the things that come from that. That requires a degree of stability.

“I think it’s hopes of the nation has to be to keep the people of the nation secure, to keep them fed and healthy, but importantly to keep them educated, because it’s with the education that we will build the future.

“I can’t see why we can’t afford to pay for it in this direction and not pay for it in this direction, and not some other way.”

He added of the current system: “They didn’t take it all [of what we recommended], they watered it down, but they took quite a bit of it.

“I actually proposed that there be no cap on fees, but that the repayment schedules for each university be looked at, and there’d be a reverse tax on fees that are higher than £9000 where the graduates never pay back.

“A lot of it was accepted – and Vince Cable keeps telling me every time I see him, ‘we did a good job didn’t we?’, which I found very interesting.

“I think we did a pretty good job. There were big rumours that people wouldn’t apply to university – that’s not true, admissions have gone up.

“Some of the worst universities have actually had admissions come right down, because people can see they’re not very good. Some universities had to combine courses because of the pressure.

“In the report we did say the burden of the state to pick up the 40% of the loans that will not be paid back.

“It’s right and proper that people should go to university and study, and not necessarily work, or work in a low-paid job. That’s part of what the state should be doing.”

When asked what he thought of Ed Miliband, he said: “I’m also a crossbencher so I have absolutely no party politics.

“Never have party politics. I’ve done things for five Prime Ministers during my time, and they’ve been a mix of people from the left, right and centre.”