Abolishing Tuition Fees is Wrong, But Wise for Corbyn and Labour

During an election where the Tories wanted talk of policy to be non-existent, and leadership to be scrutinised by the public, it was two policies that ultimately set the tone for the exit poll. One being the so called ‘Dementia Tax’, and the other being Labour’s pledge to abolish University tuition fees, something which was popular with younger voters. Tuition fees were actually introduced by Labour back in 1998 – although they had been on the cards for years, and were introduced a much lower cost than we see now. It was the coalition government of 2010 that tripled fees to 9k a year, and it was the Tory government of 2015 that decided to remove this cap, and scrap maintenance grants for students.

Corbyn’s Labour has had a distinct position on this since day 1; he wants to abolish tuition fees and has also mentioned before, although it’s not policy, that debt for current graduates could also be removed. And one thing it certainly did do, was enthuse younger voters. 16% more 18-25-year olds turned out compared to 2015, and one of the main reasons for this was because of policies they felt they could get behind, this arguably the main one.

There’s no doubt it’s popular, and that is why Labour and Corbyn continue to use it. But just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean it’s right, and it’s clear that abolishing tuition fees would not be a smart move. Firstly, it’s not a cheap pledge. According to Labour’s manifesto, the move would cost £11bn, and if Corbyn were to go ahead with removing debt for graduates, that is estimated to cost up to £100bn, a quite frightening amount. If both Labour and Corbyn are serious about reducing inequality in our society, there are many areas to focus on, and tuition fees are not one.

Let’s not forget also, going to University is a privilege, and should stay that way. Going to University means access to first class lecturers, specialist facilities, and world class resources. Going to university is solely benefitting the student, and is further improving their opportunities from the education they already have. Why shouldn’t students have to pay for this privilege? As highlighted by Hannah Putrus, if you commit to going to higher education, you’re making the conscious decision that the benefits of the degree outweigh the debt that comes with it.

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An Inconvenient Truth

Earlier this week, the Labour leadership released (leaked) their draft 2017 GE manifesto, to a mixed reception, but masses of coverage. It’s definitely the case that Corbynites can’t complain about the media attention the document received, something they have been arguing for since he became the party’s leader over 18 months ago. The manifesto pleased Corbyn backers, and was very radical in terms of the re-nationalisation of entities, and investment in infrastructure, and health. It included pledges to re-nationalise the railways, Royal Mail, and the energy grid, build 100,000 new homes a year, abolish tuition fees, increase health funding, and raise the minimum wage to £10 a year.

It’s fair to say the manifesto is packed full of good ideas, and many of them have received widespread support from the public. Polls since have found that 58% support re-nationalising the railways, water companies and other utilities, 61% support the increase in minimum wage, 52% support increasing the top rate of tax, 64% back abolishing zero-hour contracts, 53% want universal free school meals for primary school students, and 59% back better rent control.

Many of the ideas will also please, and appease the left wing of the party. There will be many Corbyn supporters whose pulses will be racing at the idea of public ownership of the railways, reversals of tax cuts, abolishment of university tuition fees, and big spending pledges. But they’ll be many in the party who see it as letting down the swing voters we need to have any chance of forming a government.

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