U-turn on scrapping tuition fees ‘was difficult period for Lib Dems’

Credit: PA

The U-turn on scrapping tuition fees while in coalition was a “difficult period” in the Liberal Democrats’ history, the party’s education spokesperson has said.

But Munira Wilson would not commit to any red lines on education policy when asked about the potential of the party entering into a coalition, saying she is not taking any seats for granted and is focused instead on putting forward a “really compelling offer” for voters.

The Lib Dems ditched their pledge to scrap university fees altogether while in a powersharing agreement with the Conservatives in 2010, and instead agreed to increase the fees to a maximum of £9,000-a-year.

Lib Dem education spokeswoman Munira Wilson. Credit: PA

Speaking to reporters at the party’s autumn conference in Bournemouth, Ms Wilson said: “It was a difficult period in the party’s history.

“Actually looking at education and the coalition I’m really proud of the fact that we were the ones who introduced the pupil premium, free school meals for infants and shared parental leave – all of which are policies which I’m looking to build on.

“And I think when people see the offering that I have set out over this weekend, they will see that we are the party that’s making the strongest offer for children and young people.”

Asked if she could guarantee if any part of the offer would not be sacrificed for the prospect of entering coalition, she said: “I am not taking for granted how many seats we are going to win and what happens the day after the election.

“This is about setting out the Liberal Democrats’ agenda for education and young people going forward.”

And Ms Wilson also suggested her party would not return to university tuition fees as a focus of policy change in the near future.

“I would like us to look at the repayment threshold and the fact that eye-watering interest rates are being charged, but our main priority will be on maintenance grants,” she said.

Asked about potential changes to tuition fees, she said: “At this stage… it will be our policies as we set out in the 2019 manifesto.”

The party’s manifesto at the last general election committed to reinstating maintenance grants “for the poorest students”.

The Liberal Democrat education spokesperson also said her party is “attracted” to the idea of a British baccalaureate, something the prime minister is also reportedly considering.

But Ms Wilson played down the idea in the short-term, saying there are “burning issues” that need to be addressed in schools first.

She said: “Once we’ve got the basics right, yes we’d love to look at the curriculum and exam reform, but that needs to be done with the sector and on a long-term basis. It’s not a one or two parliament change. This is a generational reform and it can’t be done quickly.”

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