WILL NICK Clegg’s long-term reputation be defined by the university tuition fees dispute?
“No, I don’t agree that the student fees thing won’t go away,” says the man who signed a pledge against any rise in fees saying an increase to £7,000 a year would be a ‘disaster’ - then was part of a decision to allow them to rise to £9,000 a year.
“It’s a really important point this. At the moment everybody believes that everyone will have to pay £9,000 the moment they walk into university and they are going to be saddled with some debt that they are never going to be able to pay off.
“That is a lie. I want to nail this, it is not true.
“You will not pay when you go to university, everyone will not be paying £9,000. You will not have to pay a penny until years after you have been to university and you will pay out less from your bank account than you would under Labour’s flat poll tax system. “You know, I’m a father, I want my children to go to university and when the time comes I will do what I assume a lot of other parents are doing now and actually look at the detail. I would urge people to do that.”
So was it a mistake to make the pledge or a mistake to change his mind afterwards?
“You can be wise with hindsight, in life, always,” said the Wesminster School and Cambridge University educated Deputy Prime Minister.
“I don’t spend too much time looking in the rear-view mirror. Both Labour and Conservative were wedded to the fees system, fees would have sky-rocketed under Labour.
“They commissioned the Brown report, which actually advocated no limit on fees at all.
“What we could have said is that instead we will take the money away from pensions, primary schools, secondary schools or pre-schools, we could have slashed the numbers of students and just stop a certain number of people going to university.
“All of those would be less acceptable than what we have actually done.
“The majority of graduates will never have to pay off the full value of their loans. Every single graduate will pay less than they currently do.
“I’m going to visit every single school in my constituency to explain the difference to the next generation of students that it will actually now be easier and cheaper for many of them to go to university.”