Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Hughes takes education access role

Simon Hughes has agreed to become the Government's Advocate for Access to Education

A senior Liberal Democrat MP who felt unable to vote for tuition fee increases has been recruited by David Cameron and Nick Clegg to lead efforts to persuade young people they can still afford to go to university.

The party's deputy leader Simon Hughes, who abstained in the crunch Commons vote, has agreed to become the Government's Advocate for Access to Education in a bid to dispel "myths" about the policy.

During the six-month term he will also contribute to work on finding a suitable replacement for the educational maintenance allowance - the axing of which he has criticised.

Announcing the unpaid appointment, the Prime Minister and his coalition deputy renewed complaints that the true impact of the near trebling of maximum fees had been "obscured" by the political row over the Lib Dems breaking a pre-election pledge to oppose rises.

It would be a "tragedy for them" if young people from disadvantaged backgrounds were wrongly put off applying for a degree because of that "misinformation", they said in their letter to Mr Hughes.

His role will involve going into schools to canvass the concerns of less-well-off teenagers and devise with them publicity campaigns to persuade as many as possible to consider higher education.

Accepting the role, he said: "It is a privilege to be asked to take on this role, and I will do so with urgency, enthusiasm and determination. Parliament has settled the maximum university fee level in England from 2012 and we now have a critically-important task to ensure that every potential student has access to all the facts about the costs, benefits and opportunities of further and higher education.

"I will work with every person of goodwill to ensure that from 2011 we have the best system of educational advice, information and support in place, designed to benefit all potential students and to ensure that disadvantaged young people increasingly gain access to further and higher education."

Shadow business secretary John Denham criticised Mr Hughes's appointment as "cynical" and "window-dressing".

Mr Denham told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "He should apologise for not voting against this policy. The Tory-led Government is clearly worried that students will be put off or make bad choices because they are put off by higher fees. Simon Hughes is as responsible as anyone in this Parliament for that."

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