David Cameron has confirmed he has changed his mind on the need for student grants for the poorest students - telling MPs a system of loans and fees is a better way to ensure university was not the preserve of the “elite”.
The Prime Minister came under fire from Jeremy Corbyn for getting rid of student maintenance grants, despite the plan not appearing in the Conservative manifesto.
His response at Prime Minister’s Questions - that fees and loans was “uncapping aspiration” - is in marked contrast to Mr Cameron’s pledge in 2010 to “always help people from lower income backgrounds” has been shared in social media.
His position was confirmed to The Huffington Post UK by the Prime Minister’s official spokesman.
The Labour leader argued the coalition Government pledged to increase the bursary for the poorest when it trebled tuition university fees to £3,000 a year in 2011.
But Mr Cameron responded it was Labour that introduced fees and loans to replace grants in 1998, and claimed the party under Mr Corbyn’s leadership wanted to go back to a situation where “people went out, worked hard, to pay their taxes for an elite to go university”.
The move to axe the grant, which will affect around half a million of England's poorest students, was met with anger when it was announced in George Osborne's Summer budget.
The policy was not debated in the Commons, and was instead passed by just 18 MPs in a back-room Westminster committee. Yesterday, students blocked Westminster Bridge in protest.
Mr Corbyn opened his round of six questions at PMQs on “where in the Tory manifesto” was the pledge to abolish maintenance grants for all students.
Mr Cameron’s reply was the manifesto promised to “cut the deficit and would uncap student numbers, and we've done both”.
The Labour leader persisted, raising a question crowdsourced from “a student called Liam” who asked: ‘I’m training to be a mathematics teacher and now will come out at the end of my course to debts in excess of £50,000. Which is roughly twice what his annual income would be.”
He added: “Why is Liam being put into such debt?”
Mr Cameron argued - as has repeatedly been the Government line - that more people from the poorest backgrounds are going to university now.
He said: “What I would say to Liam is he's now in a country with a university system with more people going to university than ever before and more people from low income backgrounds going than ever before.
“He will not pay back a penny of his loan until he's earning £21,000. He will not start paying back in full until he's earning £35,000 and our policy is going to put more money in the hands of students like Liam.
“By contrast, the Labour policy. - which is to scrap the loans and scrap the fees, which would cost £10 billion - would mean going back to a situation where people went out, worked hard, pay their taxes for an elite to go university. We're uncapping aspiration. He wants to put a cap it.”
Jeremy Corbyn: "They’re now scrapping the very same grants they used to boast about they would increase."
The Labour leader returned by raising the pledge to increase maintenance grants as fees were increased. Mr Corbyn said: “They’re now scrapping the very same grants they used to boast about they would increase. Where is the sense in doing this? Why are they abolishing those maintenance grants?”
Mr Cameron replied: “The sense in doing this is we want to uncap university places so as many young people in our country who want to go to university can go to university. And before too much shouting from the party opposite, when they were in government it was Labour that introduced the fees and loans system.”