DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg has backed the Echo’s bid to get more Wearsiders into higher education.
The Lib Dem leader took time out of his busy day to give a message of support to the Degrees of Success campaign, which aims to encourage more people to go to university.
Mr Clegg said: “Going to university will help you get a better job. It will help you progress up the career ladder and I would strongly urge anyone considering going to university to take the plunge.
“I think this is an excellent campaign.”
The Degrees of Success campaign aims to help increase the number of graduates on Wearside, giving people with talent, regardless of background, the opportunity to fulfil their career ambitions, increase their earnings potential and enjoy a life-changing experience.
Sunderland is well below the national average, with just 22 per cent of young people going to university compared to national average of 36 per cent.
Mr Clegg’s endorsement of the campaign comes after his party has taken heavy flak over the Coalition Government’s raising of student tuition fees.
Students studying at Sunderland from next year will face fees of up to £8,500 a year, with Durham University charging the top rate of £9,000 per year.
Historically, the Lib Dems have been strongly against student fees, and pledged to scrap or phase them out.
But the party was forced to back a policy of raising student fees when it went into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010.
Mr Clegg told the Echo, however, that his party ensured safeguards were in place which would prevent a university education becoming out of reach for people from low and middle-income families.
He stressed there would be no upfront fees, with the charges covered by Tuition Fee Loans. He said it would be easier to pay back than under the old system because the Coalition had raised the repayment income threshold from £15,000 to £21,000.
The Sheffield MP has previously said someone whose salary started at £21,000 and rose to £27,000 after 20 years would find themselves having to pay an average of £7 a month – compared to £45 a month under the old system.
He said being in the Coalition meant the Lib Dems had not been able to keep their pledge on student fees, but had played a big part in ensuring a fairer repayment system.
“I would urge people to look afresh at the facts and hope they see the true picture,” he said.
Mr Clegg was in Sunderland earlier this month to announce millions of pounds in Regional Growth Fund cash to underpin jobs at the Unipres car parts plant.