The Government has made “tough choices” to produce a better system for university funding, Business Secretary Vince Cable has said.
As thousands of students protest against plans to treble tuition fees on the day MPs vote on the controversial issue, Mr Cable admitted it was not an easy situation but spoke of his pride in the proposals.
He also defended fellow Liberal Democrats’ right to abstain from the vote after the party pledged in its election manifesto not to increase fees.
“We accepted when we entered into the coalition agreement that some of our commitments could be maintained, others could not,” Mr Cable told BBC Breakfast.
“We have had to compromise and the coalition agreement was a compromise.
“It made a commitment to produce a fairer, more progressive system of student tuition fees – we’ve done that. And it did provide for my colleagues who wish to abstain to do so.”
Mr Cable said “very substantial” cuts had to be made to reduce the “enormous fiscal deficit” and said decisions were being made against the economic backdrop.
He said: “I am proud of the fact that we’ve managed to craft a set of proposals which is more progressive than existing arrangements, which does provide universities with a reliable source of income so we can have world-class universities.
“But it’s not easy politically, I don’t pretend that for a moment, but in government we have to make tough choices. We’ve made them and I think we’ve produced a better system.”
Mr Cable acknowledged that in an ideal world things would be free but said he did not believe public trust in the Lib Dems had been dented. “I’d love to be Father Christmas and hand out lots of very popular policies and spend lots of money and not have to make difficult decisions but I think trust comes from seeing governments making difficult choices in the national interest, which is what we are having to do,” he told ITV1’s Daybreak.