Asked whether students would be able to continue to pay their fees upfront if they chose to, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that Lord Browne had published his proposals that morning and the Secretary of State for Business would be making a statement in the afternoon in the House, and we should wait for that.
Asked whether the Government thought it was right for students to get into those levels of debt, the PMS said that we started from a position where the current system was not sustainable. That was recognised by the last Government which was why they commissioned Lord Browne to do the work. What we were trying to do was ensure we addressed it in a way that gave us a sustainable funded sector, that promoted access to people from all backgrounds and that we had good universities in this country.
Put that by protecting the poor the middle classes would be the ones who suffered, the PMS said that we should wait to hear what Vince Cable said that afternoon. The Prime Minister had said that we were very keen to promote access to people from all backgrounds so that everyone had the opportunity, if they had the talent to go to university, and would implement that in a fair way. But we couldn’t shy away from the problem, that the current system was unsustainable.
Asked whether the Business Secretary would set out the definitive position on student finance or if it was work in progress, the PMS said the Business Secretary would give an initial response that afternoon, responding to some of the main findings in the report, but we would have more to say on details later on.
Asked why the Government thought it was bad for the country to be in debt but not bad for individuals, the PMS said that students were the main beneficiaries from going to university. That if you looked at the lifetime earnings of a graduate they were on average 100 thousand pounds higher than those who had not gone to university. So what we were saying was that we need to look at whether it was right for graduates to make a greater contribution to the funding of the system.
Asked whether the Prime Minister envisaged university as being for a privileged few, the PMS said our intention was that we promote access to our universities for people from all backgrounds.
Put that the driving force behind the report was deficit reduction, the PMS said the deficit was a reality and something that we had to reflect in our plans for the higher education sector as we did in our plans for the public sector more generally. There was no point in pretending that the deficit was not there. But funding of the university sector had long been seen as an issue that needed to be addressed. That’s why Lord Browne was commissioned by the last Government to undertake his work.
Asked whether deficit reduction came above or below access to university for all, the PMS said that these were both important things and we had to look at those issues in the round. The PMS added that there was a constructive meeting that morning at the House of Commons. There was a very positive discussion and a lot of support around that table for the principles set out by Lord Browne.
Asked what UK involvement there would be in the Special Forces investigation, the PMS said we were working very closely with the US on that. The minute that the US had questions about the operation, General Petraeus was on the phone to Downing Street. Since then he had spoken with the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister had also spoken to the President of the US. Both parties agreed that there should be close working between the two countries.
In terms of the investigation the US had appointed Major-General Votel to head it up. We would be appointing Brigadier Rob Nitsch, Commander Joint Force Support in Afghanistan, to the investigation and Brigadier Nitsch and the Major-General would be working closely together. At the moment the teams were discussing precisely how that work would take place and working up detailed terms of reference. General Mattis, who was Commander of US Central Command would also be in London tomorrow and had a meeting with Peter Ricketts and others. And that would be an opportunity for us to have a further discussion about the investigation.