It is with some trepidation that I tip-toe on to the dangerous and emotive territory of university tuition fees.
A week or so ago, I was at a reception attended by Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills (it was the innovation bit that I was interested in). With an election looming, it was perhaps inevitable that someone asked a question regarding the introduction of tuition fees and the prospect of a whole generation of students leaving university with large(r) loans to repay.
Cable was pretty blunt, “we used to have a system where tuition was free, but less than 10% of the population could go to university. We now have a system where nearly 50% of the population can go to university, but they have to pay fees. Which system do you want?”.
Ouch. I immediately looked around the room for a response. There was pretty broad demographic, so I was expecting at least a few fiery responses. What I heard was – nothing. Now I’m not sure if that was because it was so unusual for a politician (disclaimer: I am a fan of Mr Cable’s no-nonsense approach) to give a brutally direct answer to a direct question or if Mr Cable had actually given people food for thought. Who knows – it seems to me that we are so used to evasive answers from politicians that we’re perhaps taken aback when you actually get an answer. But one thing’s for sure – it was the topic of most of the conversations for the rest of the evening.