The Lib Dem manifesto 2017: can they win students back?

By Simon Green

Many of you will remember Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats spectacularly reversing their position on tuition fees. From a manifesto promise to abolish them, to actually tripling them in 2010.

While this time around, unlike Labour, there is no promise to abolish tuition fees, it seems that the Lib Dems are trying to repair their image as the party that betrayed students – one which has hung over them since that decision.

There is a strong focus throughout the Lib Dems’ manifesto on reversing a ‘Hard Brexit,’ including in the section devoted to Higher Education. They claim they will “Reverse the damage to universities and academics” that such a ‘Hard Brexit’ would cause. This may sound good, but with no one fully understanding what a ‘Hard Brexit’ really means, this seems a fairly empty promise.

They also pledge to reinstate maintenance grants for the poorest students and force universities to be more transparent about their selection processes. This targets a lack of diversity of people from different economic and ethnic backgrounds, who are often underrepresented at universities such as our own. In Durham, where there are increasingly exorbitant living costs and with some 39.5% of students privately educated, compared to a national average of 7%, this could help to increase the economic diversity among Durham’s future students.

The manifesto also promises a review of tuition fees, which again seems a very vague policy position. However, they have pledged to stop the privatisation of student loans companies and any further rise in tuition fees to the ones already introduced.

As you might have expected from a self-proclaimed ‘internationalist’ party, there is a key emphasis on international students and staff being protected. As well as this, they want to work to “reinstate post-study work visas for graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects who find suitable employment within six months of graduating,” and make the visa process for international students “fairer and more transparent.”

In summary, the Liberal Democrats effectively see an avoidance of a ‘Hard Brexit’ (or any kind of Brexit it seems) as the solution to students’ futures. On top of this, they propose some increases in investment and an emphasis on increased diversity in Higher Education.

The question that remains is – will these policies be enough to shake off the betrayal of 2010?

Photograph: David Spender via Flickr

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