Coali­tion un­der pres­sure in var­sity fees vote

The Pak Banker - - 6international -

LONDON: The coali­tion govern­ment faced its biggest test yet Thurs­day in a vote on whether to let uni­ver­si­ties triple tu­ition fees, as thou­sands of stu­dents geared up to protest against the mea­sures.

The con­tro­ver­sial pro­pos­als-which will see stu­dents at English uni­ver­si­ties charged fees of up to 9,000 pounds (14,200 dol­lars, 10,700 eu­ros) a year-have ex­posed deep ten­sions within the coali­tion.

De­spite a se­ries of last­minute con­ces­sions by the govern­ment, Lib­eral Demo­crat MPs are ex­pected to rebel on a large scale against the pro­pos­als which amount to a re­ver­sal of one of the party's most cher­ished poli­cies.

Stu­dent protests against the mea­sure have de­scended into vi­o­lence, with demon­stra­tors at­tack­ing the build­ing hous­ing the Con­ser­va­tive Party's head­quar­ters last month.

Po­lice were on high alert Thurs­day as thou­sands of stu­dents, lec­tur­ers and school pupils were ex­pected to take to the streets of cen­tral London again as MPs were gath­er­ing to vote on the mea­sure.

Al­though the size of the govern­ment's ma­jor­ity in the House of Com­mons means the mea­sure is ex­pected to pass, the fiercely de­bated is­sue has put huge strain on the govern­ment formed af­ter May's polls.

The Lib­eral Democrats, led by Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Nick Clegg, made a pledge to phase out tu­ition fees al­to­gether as a cen­tral plank of their elec­tion man­i­festo. But in agree­ing to form a coali­tion with the Con­ser­va­tives they per­formed a U-turn on the is­sue, much to the horror of stu­dents and many within the Lib­eral Dem party it­self.

Clegg, who has ap­peared vis­i­bly un­com­fort­able in re­cent days over the is­sue, said rais­ing fees was "not the pol­icy that ide­ally the Lib­eral Democrats would have wanted to de­liver".

But he added: "In the cir­cum­stances where the coun­try, as a whole, we don't have very much money, we are ask­ing mil­lions of peo­ple to make sac­ri­fices, where there an in­creas­ing num­ber of young peo­ple we want to help to go uni­ver­sity."

It was "not un­rea­son­able" to ask grad­u­ates to con­trib­ute to the costs of their ed­u­ca­tion, he in­sisted. But in a sign of the deep di­vi­sions, one Lib Dem MP who says he will vote against the mea­sure, Greg Mulholland, said it would dis­cour­age peo­ple from mod­est back­grounds from go­ing to uni­ver­sity. "It is not in any­one's in­ter­ests to do this at this stage," he told The Guardian news­pa­per. "Some­times the most coura­geous thing to do is to ad­mit you need a re­think. The best thing for higher ed­u­ca­tion is not to force this vote through on Thurs­day."

The pro­posal to raise the ceil­ing on fees from the cur­rent level of 3,290 pounds a year comes against a back­drop of huge cuts to higher ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing in Bri­tain, part of ma­jor bud­get re­duc­tions to tackle a record deficit. -Afp

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