In a letter to members the Party Leader Nick Clegg has confirmed the Liberal Democrats commitment to abolish student fees. The text of the letter is reproduced below.
I'm writing to let you know some good news about the Liberal Democrat manifesto - good news for students and for everyone who wants a fairer Britain. This week the Party's federal policy committee agreed a way to deliver one of our most important policies, the scrapping of unfair tuition fees. We've developed a plan to phase out tuition fees over the course of the next six years, to ensure this vital policy is affordable even at this time of economic crisis.
Labour and the Conservatives refuse to address the issue of fees and there is a real danger that both of them would lift the cap on fees which could mean even more debt for students when they leave university. We think that is wrong and our policy will prevent it happening.
It's simply wrong to penalise people who want to make the best of themselves by saddling them with enormous mortgage-style debts from the day they graduate - especially when we know the root of the current economic crisis was too much debt. And it's clear that people from disadvantaged backgrounds are far more likely to be put off going to university if it costs them tens of thousands of pounds. In a fair society, university admissions should be based on your grades and intelligence, not the wealth of your parents. You should decide whether going to university makes sense for you - and you shouldn't have to make the decision based on your bank balance.
We were right to oppose tuition fees from day one, and have been right to continue to oppose any lifting of the cap on the limit of fees. The government has been obsessed with artificial targets for how many people should go to university, while putting barriers in their way in the shape of fees. My priority is making degrees affordable, and that means scrapping these unfair fees, including for those who study part-time. This is vital, because it tends to be older or poorer students who can't afford a full-time degree, but under current rules they have to pay up-front, while everyone else is allowed to defer their payments.
Of course, at a time of economic crisis, when the government has got the public finances into a mess, it is extremely important to be responsible about making a big financial commitment like this. Students want to be treated like grown ups; they know money doesn't grow on trees and that big spending commitments like this are only affordable over time. That's why we have agreed together to lay out a financially responsible timetable to scrap fees, step by step, over the six years after the General Election.
Final year tuition fees will be the first to go. Too many people drop out, often put off by the huge costs. We'll make it easier to stay on, because no student will pay any fees to complete their degree. In 2011, we'll get help to part-time students, regulating the fees they pay (a vital step towards abolishing them). In 2012, part-time students will be able to access the same loans as full-time students. In 2013, we'll extend free tuition to second year students. In 2014, we'll extend that same free tuition to part time students. And in 2015, as the public finances are recovering, we will be able to afford to abolish all remaining fees.
Labour's recession has made it more difficult to find the money to fund our priorities. That's why we are right to adapt our plans for big spending commitments and why it is right that our General Election manifesto will focus this time on a smaller number of key commitments. But our message to students is clear: we remain the only party that believes fees are unfair, and the only party with a plan to get rid of them for good.
Leader of the Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats Propective Parliamentary Candidate for Spelthorne, Mark Chapman commented "As a party we understand the difficulties that students face. We also know that these fees are a barrier to the least well off in our society taking on further education. The UK has become a high skill, high tech economy, and we need a well trained workforce that is ready to tackle the challenges that face us as we come out of recession. Young people from across society deserve the opportunity to gain these skills. Tuition fees prevent many of them from doing so; the Tories and Labour insist that these fees should stay. The Liberal Democrats are the only party committed to fairness, and we would work towards scrapping these fees as soon as Government finances allow."