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Jeremy Corbyn's Supposed 'U-Turn' On Tuition Fees Is Nothing But A Distraction

27/07/2017 10:56 BST | Updated 27/07/2017 10:56 BST

The student funding crisis is not going anywhere.

Over the past week, there has been no end of hot-air over Jeremy Corbyn's supposed 'U-turn' on student debt. The claim is that the Labour leader, an interview with on the Marr Show, had backtracked on a pre-election pledge to write-off student debt. The Daily Mail, the venerable guardian of student rights, screamed 'Corbyn Student Debt Humiliation', and politicians and pundits of all stripes queued up outside television studios to bemoan Labour's grand deception of our nation's youth.

You would think that, as the elected representative of millions of students studying in higher education across the UK, I would be justifiably outraged.

Except I'm not. That's because a pledge to abolish student debt couldn't have been broken, because it was never made in the first place.

And you know what the funny thing is? I'd hedge my bets that most students will know it. Young people are less susceptible to the kind of manufactured hysteria generated by the tabloids, and not as 'impressionable' as some have recently suggested. To contrary, I believe that the political awakening during the recent general election inspired a generation that does think critically, that is able to engage with policy proposals and consider who is best placed to offer an alternative to the inter-generational inequalities that plague our current system.

If this recent claim is just a crude attempt to quell the desire for fairer funding system, it will most likely backfire. A recent poll by YouGov shows only 17% of 18-24 year olds thought that Labour were planning to write off historic debt. Many students will see through this cynical attempt to pull wool over their eyes; to tell us that there is no alternative to our unjust education funding model, and that we were fools for ever believing there could be.

The barely-concealed glee with which many of our political class and professional punditry have gone about this endeavour is eye-opening - particularly from those who failed to offer anything of substance for themselves - and now act with blatant disdain towards students that dared to challenge our deeply unfair funding model.

So, if the claim itself isn't true, and students are unlikely to believe it - then what is the point?

What we are witnessing is an exercise in political point-scoring in its most unscrupulous form. As with a certain president from across the pond, it is now clear that the truth of a claim is of less importance than a good headline.

But it is about more than that: it represents a desperate gambit from a government that is suffering from a paucity of ideas. With each passing day, the consensus grows on the need for reform. Yet the government buries its head in the sand, stubbornly heading on down a road that students do not want to be on at all.

Recent announcements by the Universities Minister, Jo Johnson: student contracts, a new system for measuring graduate earnings, subject level rankings and some vague guidance on Vice Chancellors' pay, are all just window dressing on a smashed façade. We need to talk about the real challenges facing students and our sector: the uncertain impact of Brexit, rising levels of student poverty, and the unsustainability of our education funding model following the findings of the Institute of Fiscal Studies Report (IFS).

The Conservatives, like on pretty much any policy stance, are divided on this issue. Government Minister Damian Green - effectively the Prime Minister's right hand man - recognised the need to listen to our young people when he called for a "national debate" on the future of our education funding model. This week I spoke on radio with a Conservative counsellor who claimed that there is now a widespread belief amongst their grassroots activists that the current system is untenable, and that something be done spiralling levels of student debt.

Unfortunately, that reality is yet to dawn on the government, who are instead choosing to indulge in a desperate defence of a broken system.

Rather than indulging in whataboutery, what we need is a sensible and clear conversation about how we provide a better and fairer funding model for students. Instead of dismissing students as naïve or gullible, politicians of all hues should try to understand our disillusionment, and offer their own alternatives to our clearly ailing system.

Above all, the government should start acting like it is government. It should accept the indisputable evidence in front of it, and show the courage to admit that they are wrong - and talking about how we can provide a fairer, more progressive funding model for students.

Amatey Doku is Vice President Higher Education at the National Union of Students. He previously served as the President of Cambridge University Students' Union