Azara Blog: Nick Clegg blames everyone but himself for university funding situation

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Date published: 2011/02/11

The BBC says:

Nick Clegg has warned Oxford and Cambridge universities that it is "not up to them" to decide whether they can charge fees of up to £9,000 a year.

The deputy prime minister said they had to "dramatically increase" access for poorer students, after Cambridge said it could demand this amount.

From 2012, English university fees will be between £6,000 and £9,000 a year.

Mr Clegg made the comments to BBC News as he faced an audience of students who accused him of "selling out".

Before the general election, his Liberal Democrats pledged to fight to end tuition fees.

But, since forming a coalition with the Conservatives, this policy has been dropped, amid protests by many students.

Cambridge University's working group on fees has recommended charging £9,000 for all its courses, while leading figures at Oxford have met to discuss the possibility.

During the BBC debate, hosted by political editor Nick Robinson, Mr Clegg said: "The truth is, for Oxford and Cambridge, and for those universities who've said over the last few years that they want to charge £9,000, it's not up to them.

"They can say what they like. They can't charge £9,000 unless they're given permission to do so.

"And they're only going to be given permission to do so if they can prove that they can dramatically increase the number of people from poorer and disadvantaged backgrounds who presently aren't going to Oxford and Cambridge."

Needless to say, Clegg is technically correct that it is not up to Oxbridge "to decide whether they can charge fees of up to £9,000 a year". Unfortunately, he and his government has removed so much government funding from universities that either these high fees will be charged or universities will be seriously damaged (or both).

Obviously the reason that Clegg was taking this "tough" line with Oxbridge is that he is trying to divert attention from his sorry contribution to the affair. The Lib Dems made a crazy promise during the election not only not to increase tuition fees, but to abolish the existing (circa £3300) fees. That was naive enough, but even worse, it was discovered after the election that Clegg did not even believe in this policy. And also after the election he enthusiastically pushed for the increase of the fee to the £9,000 limit.

Oxbridge already biases selection towards poorer students. The problem is that these students have been badly educated by the UK school system, and the government, rather than admitting it is responsible, wants to shift the blame to Oxbridge, who are supposed to magically figure out in a relatively short interview (or two) which of these students are bright enough to overcome 18 years of neglect and survive (never mind thrive in) a 3 year university education, surrounded by students who have been properly educated.

It is ironic that the current government, stuffed full of nice but dim people who all went to Oxbridge and who are only where they are in life because they were born rich, is allegedly so concerned about poor students. The one policy that all Oxbridge colleges should publicly declare as part of their support of access for poor students is that not a single child of any government minister will in future be accepted as an undergraduate. Someone has to make the sacrifice of a place at Oxbridge in order to help the poor.

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