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16th February 2016

Corbyn attacks £9k fee system: England should be “utterly ashamed”

High university fees could damage our economy and society by “locking people out of the skills of the future”, says Labour Leader.

Speaking on education for the first time since his election as Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn has spoken out against the government’s policies, arguing that England now has the highest fees for public universities in the world—beating the US.

In his speech, at a University and College Union event, Education From Cradle to Grave, Corbyn highlighted the dramatic decline in part-time students since the increase in fees. Numbers are down from 824,000 in 2011 to 570,000 today.

He said: “A quarter of a million people a year have been put off [by] part-time education by the hikes in fees—a loss to the institutions, a loss to the education of the whole country and obviously catastrophic for those quarter of a million individuals who wanted to develop themselves… [who] cannot now do it because of these costs,” according to Times Higher Education.

They are “now being betrayed by a government which changes the terms of the loans after they have been taken out. How can any prospective student trust an education system which treats them like this?”

In his campaign for the Labour party leadership, Jeremy Corbyn was highly vocal of his opposition to the £9,000 a year tuition fee system. During his campaign, Corbyn proposed a new scheme which involved scrapping fees and reintroducing maintenance grants—a move thought to cost £10 billion a year.

Gordon Marsden, Shadow Higher Education, Further Education and Skills Minister, has said that the Labour policy on education has not been decided on just yet, noting that it is still a “subject for discussion”.

Speaking on the matter, Marsden stressed that rather than entering “hypothetical, theological discussions” about education, the party are not rushing. He said: “The priorities that we set must reflect the needs of the 21st century and the breadth of the subjects we need to address.”

Whilst still relatively unknown, the policy is thought to be centred on the re-establishment of maintenance grants. Marsden has said the recent scrapping of grants was “rushed, untested and potentially very socially damaging.”

During his talk, Corbyn also stressed how £9,000 fees has meant that there is a greater divide in the classes—“education is of such huge economic and social importance it must be open to all regardless of background or wealth.”

He argued that “the cost of higher education is extortionate and prohibitive”, leading to many economically disadvantaged students taking up part-time work while studying—something which could affect the quality of their education.

“Having to juggle two or three jobs and studying in order to make something of their lives—from which we all benefit. Surely we can do better than that and we must change to do better than that.”

He added: “The government claimed that students from disadvantaged backgrounds would not be put off by the fees of 2012 because of maintenance grants.

“The government has now scrapped those much needed maintenance grants, which means that thousands of students every year will be worse off.”

He added: “David Cameron has called on universities to take more black and minority ethnic students. I welcome that and I agree with that”, and now “we call on the government to recognise that, however, that these students are being put off disproportionately by the cuts to funding and abolition of maintenance grants.”

More controversy surrounding the topic of education occurred when the current Conservative government unveiled their plan to freeze the repayment threshold, set at £21,000, for the next five years. According to some estimates, this means that graduates will pay an extra £2,800 over 30 years.

Previously, the government had said they “will increase the repayment threshold to £21,000, and will thereafter increase it periodically to reflect earnings.”

GuildHE has said that the change “will undermine the trust and confidence in the stability of the loan system for future students… and it will be more difficult to make an informed decision to go to university.”

“Students will end up repaying more and it will negatively impact the income of the lowest and middle earner graduates, women” as well as groups such as black and minority ethnic students—”who tend to have lower rates of professional employment six months after graduation.”

More unsettling for students, the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, has refused to rule out any further changes to student loan repayment terms.

Corbyn stated that these cuts to education could be “doing permanent damage to the whole of our society and to the ability to develop a much stronger manufacturing-based innovative economy in the future.”

He said that education is, “yes, about training, and yes, about the ability to work, but it’s also about the value of having an educated society where everybody’s imagination is opened up,”

“We have the highest tuition fees in the industrialised world—it’s not something we should be proud of, it’s something we should be utterly ashamed of as a country.”

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