I am one of those fortunate enough to have enjoyed a free university education in the 1970's and an almost complete maintenance grant. Grants were means tested then according to your parents' income, and coming from a modest background I qualified for the full grant for my first two years.
Since then we have had the introduction of tuition fees, the withdrawal of grants except for a very small number of poor applicants, and the introduction of top-up fees too, each change made by a Labour Government following manifesto pledges against such moves.
So am I arguing that because Labour reneged on manifesto commitments it's all right for the Liberal Democrats too?
Well there is a big difference between the two parties. Each time Labour made a promise they failed to keep they had secured a working majority in the House of Commons at the General Election that preceded their decisions. So they had the power to fulfil their promises but chose not to do so.
In 2010 the Liberal Democrats did not win the election.
They did not secure the power to implement their manifesto in full, which included in case any reader has forgotten, to phase out tuition fees over six years. Not immediately, but over longer than a parliamentary term.
At the election we secured around 23% of the vote and got about 10% of the seats. Both Labour and the Tories support tuition fees, so whether the Liberal Democrats had done a deal with either party, securing a phase out of tuition fees just wasn't going to happen.
The Coalition Agreement secured the option for Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain on any vote to increase fees, and in practice I expect many will vote against the increase. This is the position taken up by our new party president Tim Farron who was my choice for the role.
However our instincts for fairness has led to the party securing a better deal for graduates than the Browne report (commissioned by the last Labour Government) envisaged. The repayment scheme now being proposed makes sure that the third of graduates taking on the lowest paid jobs (such as in Social Care) will actually pay less back than they do now, and those graduates in the top third of jobs on the highest pay (such as those in financial services) will pay back more. It is the closest one can get to a Graduate Tax without calling it such.
So why is the NUS trying to unseat Liberal Democrat MPs?
I don't think they have thought this through. If we have fewer Lib Dems in the next Parliament we are likely to have more Labour and Tory MPs who actually believe in fees and are not interested in making the system fairer. Labour is very publicly split over the concept of a Graduate Tax already, and as they are a party that has twice reneged on tuition fee commitments when in power they cannot be trusted. The Tories are waving the flag of fairness at the moment, because while they are in coalition with us they have to. But give them a working majority and the fairness principle will soon be lost.
So by supporting the NUS campaign to unseat Lib Dem MPs students will be making sure the opportunities for their fellow students from poor backgrounds are diminished further for another generation.
In fact the opposite would be a better way forward. If students actively campaigned for the Liberal Democrats to win more seats we could extend the fairness principle further.
Whether we can ever recreate the conditions that applied when I was a student, when I was the first person from my family to ever go to university, will always be difficult given the higher proportion of students now qualifying for Higher Education, but it's still a campaign worth pursuing.
So I think the NUS needs to reconsider its position. It would be usual for students to blame the older generation for mistakes that impact badly on them, but this time they could be making it worse for themselves....