MP for North Swindon

Justin Tomlinson MP

Swindon Advertiser Weekly Article

 

This week in Parliament has been a hive of activity ahead of the vote on the proposed changes for tuition fees. I have put a lot of consideration into this crucial vote, as this has been an issue I have been interested in since my own university days when I attended the National Union of Students conferences.

I am instinctively against tuition fees, so having met with the NUS President, representatives of Universities, students from Swindon and - unlike most MPs - a number of students during the demonstrations, I then met with Ministers directly to raise concerns.

As it stands we have two options, firstly to introduce the student finance plan (the Coalition’s proposal) or to introduce a graduate tax (Labour’s Plans).

I am totally opposed to Labour’s graduate tax. A flat 3p hike in income tax for graduates from the moment they start earning as little as £6,450 a year will be a crippling, long-term punishment.

In contrast the Coalition’s plans, whilst increasing the potential student contribution through tuition fees, does include a series of measures to match repayments to an individual’s circumstances. No repayments will be made until a student’s salary reaches £21,000, rather than the current £15,000. The amount you pay will depend on how much you are earning. For example, if you are earning £25,000 you will only be paying £30 per month towards the costs of your education. Graduates on low incomes will not pay any interest; again an improvement on the current system.

In addition, the student grant will be increased to £3,250 for those whose parents earn less than £25,000. Student grants will continue to be allocated on a sliding scale until the parent’s income reaches £62,500. From my own time at University, I understand that this is crucial for day-to-day living costs. Finally to increase access, the Government has committed to investing £150 million to provide a National Scholarship Programme and we are providing access to student loans for part-time students who currently have no access.

As I have met Ministers, I have been pushing for further changes. Firstly, mandatory financial education and access to advice for all students. Secondly, the ability for students to easily transfer courses or universities. Thirdly, the ability to pay early, without penalty.

I have real fears that Labour’s proposed graduate tax would be a lot more unfair. I have given this a huge amount of thought, and I am voting for what I think is the fairest option available to make sure access to Higher Education is maintained, and that students make contributions to the costs only as and when they can afford to do so.

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