As I had predicted, the coalition yesterday lost a minor vote on the chief coroner but won an easy victory over tuition fees. I watched the debate from the press gallery in the Lords, which was more packed than usual.
There were some robust defences of the policy from coalition peers, including Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, who argued: “We do not complain when young people have to take out a mortgage debt of £150,000 or £200,000 to buy their house. This is not like a credit card debt; it is much more like a mortgage.”
But perhaps the most striking speech was by the Bishop of Lincoln*, who described the hiking of tuition fees as “deeply flawed”.
Those reasons offered indicate an attitude to higher education which is radically different-the phrase “game-changer” has been used-from anything that we have known before and is deeply troubling to those of us who see education as a key component in human flourishing; that life in all its fullness which Jesus came to bring.
We hear it argued that it is the individual student who benefits from higher education, so it is reasonable for the student to pay, albeit not up front-thank goodness-but eventually, through a repayment of loans. But that flies in the face of everything that we believe and cherish when it comes to what higher education is all about and why it matters.
Later, Lord Pattern, vice-chancellor of Oxford, said: “On this occasion, I am afraid that I do not agree with Jesus.” Technically speaking he was referring to the views of Lord Krebs, principal of Jesus College, Oxford, who had just spoken on the Labour side.
* He also has a wider remit as chair of the Church of England’s board of education