The Government Is Continually Setting Up Road Blocks in the Path of Young People Trying to Fulfil Their Potential

21/07/2016 16:46 | Updated 21 July 2016
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This government are sneaky devils. It's the last day of term in Parliament before the summer recess and MPs are getting ready to pack up and go home to their constituencies. But then the Tories suddenly rush out 30 Written Statements setting out new Government actions or policies.

Amongst them was the major announcement that tuition fees are going to rise by 2.8% next year. That's equivalent to a £250 a year increase, bringing the cost of tuition fees to an eye-watering £9,250 a year. More than £27,000 for a three-year degree.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says this will cost students an extra £6,000. The Tories managed to do it by introducing something called the Teaching Excellence Framework, which gave them the power to allow universities to increase fees in line with inflation.

Some might think such an increase is reasonable. But let's look at some facts. Tuition fees in the UK are already amongst the highest in Europe. Independent research shows that many students already finish university more than £50,000 in debt if you take into account the cost of living accomodation.

The average student graduates more than £44,000 in debt. Many will be repaying this debt well into their 50s. Just in time for their own children to start piling up their own debt.

The Government have let the genie out of the bottle by removing the cap on tuition fees. Some universities even decided to jump the gun before the Government's sneaky announcement and pushed up fees themselves. Now many more universities - perhaps every one in the country - will follow suit.

For me, this is a tax on aspiration and opportunity for young people who are from low and middle-income families. They are being priced out of Higher Education, because of their background. Not because they do not have the brains, or the ambition. The Government are continually setting up road blocks in the path of young people who are trying to fulfil their potential.

First they stripped away maintenance grants for young people, replacing them with loans (and even more debt). Tuition fees have been trebled. They promised to raise the repayment threshold in line with inflation, but then they broke their word to students, retrospectively changing the terms of the loans and freezing the threshold at £21,000. This means students paying more, and paying longer to deal with their debt, year after year after year.

I call that a triple whammy.

And it brings us closer to a two-tier system of Higher Education in this country. What will count is not how bright you are. But how much money you have got. Or your parents. Or whether you have been to public school.

Because those are the three essential ingredients for access to Higher Education nowadays. A public school education, a comfortable family background, and high income.

If you are a kid from a state school, whose parents are on low or middle-incomes, it is even harder for you to gain access and to get on life. They will need to get into deeper debt to get on. And Theresa May, on the steps of Downing Street had the gall to talk about One Nation Britain! All this at a time when the Russell Group universities, including Oxford and Cambridge) are admitting lower and lower proportions of students from low income backgrounds.

As someone who left school at the age of 16 and never had the benefit of a university education, I want my children - all children - to have that opportunity. To be able to decide what is best for them: whether a full-time job with good prospects on decent pay, an apprenticeship with the chance to learn the skills our country needs now more than ever, or to go on to higher education to develop their full potential.

Our young people must be given the chance to soar.

But too many of the brightest and the best are being consigned to second best.

Angela Rayner is the shadow education secretary and minister for women and equalities, and Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne