In the 2010 general election, many students voted for the Liberal Democrats after being falsely promised that they would not raise tuition fees. However, after just months of being in coalition with the Conservatives, the students saw the Liberal Democrats triple the price of university to up to £9,000 per year. Now, with less than seven months until the next general election rumours have spread that Labour plans to pledge to reduce tuition fees to £6,000 should they win office next May.
However, Labour would be best rethinking this potential pledge before it is announced. A cut in tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 will not help Labour successfully captured the student vote. It will instead send a message to students that they agree with the tuition fees policy implemented by the coalition.
Photo: Flickr, EdMiliband
Under the current system, the average student will leave university owing over £44,000 in debt and can be expected to still be paying off the cost of their studies and into their 50s; thirty years after the majority of students will have graduated. However, a reduction of these costs by a third, as the Labour Party is rumoured to be planning to announce, does very little to address this problem.
A reduction of tuition fees to £6,000 still means that a three year undergraduate student will leave university owing £18,000 in tuition fees and a total of around £34,000, before interest, if they receive the maximum maintenance loan.
According to the Sutton Trust, under the current system, a middle-earing graduate (someone whose annual earning is 50% higher than all graduates) will still be in £39,000 by the age of 40. Consequently, under Labour's plans, a student who graduates at the age of 21 after a 3 year course and having taken out the maximum maintenance loan will still be paying off debt way into their late 40s and maybe even into their 50s.
Given this, whether tuition fees are £9,000 or £6,000 is immaterial. Students will still be likely to be paying off debt right up until the costs are cleared after the 30 year cut off zone. On this basis, if you can afford to take on £6,000 a year of debt to study at university, you can probably afford the extra £3,000.
If Labour does announce a pledge to reduce tuition fees to £6,000 a year it goes to show that they don't actually care about student welfare since the figures indicate that at best this is a token gesture in a desperate attempt to win the votes of students.
According to the National Union of Students (NUS), a quarter of all parliamentary seats could see their winner determined by students at the year's general election. This has led the NUS's president, Toni Pearce, to claim that students are a "force to be reckoned with at the ballot box".
Given the huge impact that students are likely to play at the 2015 general election next May it is probably a good thing that Labour haven't made any announcement outlining their policy on tuition fees yet. If they announce a reduction in the costs of university to £6,000 they will send out a message to students: we don't really care about the amount of debt you inherit; we are still happy for it to be higher than many of you can afford... just so long we seem better than the alternative.
If Labour really wants to capture the votes of students they may want to consider very carefully whether a reduction in tuition fees to £6,000 is the best policy they can come up with.