There are, of course, reasonable arguments for a different student finance régime. Higher repayment thresholds and living allowance sounds like good news for students — higher indebtedness, up to £40K for some first degrees, and 3% interest, sounds worse. In the background simmer interesting issues and, possibly, two big casualties:
- The Idea of the free public University in the UK, as it has been understood for the past 50 years, is twitching on the slab. We may be heading for something more like a US system, with more private universities and an even greater gap between élite and regular institutions. Students are increasingly studying locally, which changes the nature of the experience for them. Genuine polytechnic education has been entirely swallowed by Academic institutions. As class rears its ugly head in higher education in a way that has not been seen since the 1930’s, are universities still able to transform life-chances as effectively as they did in the 60’s?
- The LibDems have for many years been a very popular voting choice among students. Albert Camus, who knew a thing or two about being a stroppy student, said “The whole life of a person is the slow trek to recover the two or three simple images
in whose presence his heart first moved.” Banks, for example, pitch heavily for student accounts on the theory that once they’ve captured a customer they will stay long term, from inertia if not conviction. Part of the rise of the LibDems over previous years has been growing and consolidating support from people who first supported them as students. The party have appeared to be highly ethical, if unworldly. Compromising its reputation for good faith with its supporters, however necessary in government, could damage the party’s future prospects very seriously.