Labour's Liam Byrne Says He'd 'Love' Education To Be As Free As The NHS

Labour's universities minister has told students this week that he would "love" higher education to be free "like the NHS", but refused to directly call for the abolishment of tuition fees.

"Obviously I would love free education," MP Liam Byrne told the Labour Students group this week, "but I'm not going to make a promise that is not deliverable."

His comments, made at King's College London, reinforced the Labour party's position graduates should shoulder the costs of their education, as set out in both the 1997 Dearing Report and 2010 Browne Report.

They also effectively ended hopes amongst the student electorate that Miliband's party might pledge more than a reduction in annual tuition fees to £6,000, which seems to be their most likely manifesto commitment.

The response from student pressure groups has been less than euphoric.

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), for example, has been especially vocal in reply. "We believe that society should tax the rich to fund education," they recently told the Huffington Post.

"We know the money is there to spend, but it's in the pockets of the most wealthy and disappearing through tax loopholes. The Labour party could commit to closing such loopholes and creating a higher tax band for the richest in society, and yet it will not break the trend of listening harder to what big business owners and millionaires want than thousands of ordinary students."

The group added that : "We will be demanding this at our next National Demonstration in Birmingham on March 28."

Their exclamation mark-adorned Twitter comments also spoke volumes:

Elsewhere in the Twittersphere, the group A Better Future derided Byrne as a "right wing chancer":

Meanwhile, Mark Leach, a professional education policy advisor, summed up the vagueness of Byrne's comments:

It is worth noting, of course, that Byrne's non-committal remarks come five years after quite different tuition fee pledges from the Liberal Democrats.

Whilst universities are highly unlikely to become free of charge, at least the Labour party are not falsely committing to providing anything to the contrary.