As was expected, the cost of tuition fees is increasingly becoming a significant policy in the lead up to 2015 UK general election. Latest reports suggest that a Labour government could reduce tuition fees by a minimum of £3000 a year.
However, whilst this is sure to be welcome news for current and prospective students faced with the daunting £9000 a year that many universities chose to charge, it is definitely worth being cautious of these new pledges.
Labour leader, Ed Miliband, is expected to announce that in a manifesto described as “radical”, his party will pledge to significantly reverse the rise in tuition fees. A reduction by the minimum figure proposed would see tuition fees of £6000 per year. Certainly a more tenable price for higher education.
In an appearance on the BBC’s Daily Politics on Wednesday, Universities Minister David Willetts insisted that the coalition had made it easier for graduates to repay their student loans by raising the repayment threshold from £15,000 to £21,000.
But Labour’s announcement comes following concerns about the system of repayment for student loans. The expected figure of 28% of loans never being repaid is now believed to be a much higher 45%. This statistic has forced the government to concede that the current maximum charge of £9000 per year for tuition fess is far more costly than first thought.
While it seems that reform of the tuition fees system is in need of careful consideration, Labour’s answer to these issues is yet to appear as a concrete long-term policy.
The party may even go further by reducing fees to £4000 per year, almost a complete U-turn on the Coalition’s controversial tuition fee increase in 2011. Much speculation surrounds Ed Miliband’s prospective policies in this area, but tuition fee cuts are expected to form part of their appeal to lower the cost of living for middle class families.
The cost of higher education is always a contentious subject, not least for young voters. Therefore it is worth considering the consequences of further changes to the system.
Universities Secretary in Labour’s last government, John Denham, is said to be considering replacing the non-repayable maintenance grant – for many a significant contribution to living income – completely with loans. For some, this conversion to a student finance structure without grants may negate any reduction in tuition fees.
This issue of necessary reforms to fees is likely to be an ongoing debate. In the competition for electoral votes approaching in the run up to next year’s elections, students should remember that altering the cost of tuition fees may not come without a risk of compromise.
Only time will tell if Labour’s approach is enough to win the confidence of the UK’s young voters.