Page last updated at 19:36 GMT, Thursday, 9 December 2010

Cable: I'm proud of 'progressive' tuition fee plan

Business Secretary Vince Cable has declared that he is "proud" of the government's plans to raise tuition fees for universities in England.

Opening a noisy Commons debate on 9 December 2010, after which MPs would be asked to vote on the rise, Mr Cable insisted that the proposals were "progressive" and would "maintain high quality universities in the long term".

Ministers want to raise the ceiling on annual tuition fees for English students to £9,000 - although the government says that would only apply if universities met conditions on widening participation.

The basic threshold would be up to £6,000 a year, and the changes would be introduced for the 2012-13 academic year. Graduates would not start paying their loans back until they earn £21,000 a year.

Mr Cable noted the "very strong feelings inside and outside the House" as he was greeted with cries of "shame!" by Labour backbenchers.

He explained: "The instrument that we're discussing here is a central part of a policy that is designed to maintain high quality universities in the long-term, tackle the fiscal deficit and provides a more progressive system of graduate contributions based on people's ability to pay."

Mr Cable told MPs: "I don't pretend, none of us pretend, that this is an easy subject. Of course it isn't. We have had to make very difficult choices."

But shadow business secretary John Denham called on Lib Dem MPs to vote against the policy.

"Most graduates will be paying off their debts for 30 years. The average is 11 years under the current scheme," he told MPs.

"The children of these graduates will have started university before they have paid off their own fees."

Mr Denham added: "There is no other country in the world taking the step that we are taking and no other country in the world can understand why we are doing it."

"As always, rather than defend their decision, we get the pathetic answer 'We had no choice'.

"They did have a choice - everyone knows they had a choice."

Part two of the debate can be found here.

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