Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Sarah Teather: Reasons for opposing tuition fees (2003)

I thought readers may be interested in Sarah Teather's maiden speech in the House of Commons, 27th November 2003 (Still on Brent Lib Dem website LINK)

The Liberal Democrats' newest MP Sarah Teather, today used her Maiden speech in the House of Commons to make an impassioned plea against tuition and top-up fees.

As the youngest of all 659 MPs in the House of Commons, Ms Teather used her own experience of student debt to highlight the fears of thousands of students facing the prospect of massive debts from huge university fees.

Sarah Teather said:

"There are many issues I intend to champion during my time here. Funding for local schools, the need for more police and GPs, campaigning to make the local council more responsive to local needs. But today, in this debate I want to raise an issue of great importance to my constituents - tuition and top-up fees.

"Although the Liberal Democrats are united in opposing these fees, there is great debate about the issue in the other parties too. I do not see it as a party-political matter.

"It is an issue that is particularly dear to my heart. As the youngest MP, I am almost certainly the only MP still paying off her student loan. I am aware that I was still very lucky in that when I went to university I received a full grant. I graduated before tuition fees were introduced.

"Students beginning GCSEs and hoping to go to university in the future could face extraordinary levels of debt - £33,000 according to Barclays Bank. That is more than my parents' mortgage.

"I feel intense frustration when we talk of widening participation, only then to debate introducing a policy which would deter the very students we hope to attract. Fear of debt is as real to many people as real debt.
"Top-up and tuition fees are serious issues of concern to my constituents. All the evidence suggests that fear of debt will deter those from lower income families and ethnic minority communities. This is particularly the case for Muslims - a large community in my constituency - where attitudes to debt are very different.

"Fundamentally, I believe that this is about whether we want to encourage a world class education system, or a class based education system where students choose universities according to their ability to pay, and universities are judged on the level of their fees.

"That is not a system I am comfortable with. It is an issue of great concern to my constituents, and many millions of people around this country. I hope honourable members will oppose the measures when the time comes."

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