In Depth

Tuition fees to be frozen under May’s ‘revolution’

The PM woos young voters with plans to and freeze tuition fees and raise the threshold at which students make repayments

Theresa May has made a major play for young voters, with a series of policies centring on tuition fees.

What has she pledged?

Speaking to the Sun on Sunday before the Conservative party conference began yesterday in Manchester, the Prime Minister announced plans to raise the income level that triggers student loan repayments for recent graduates in England from £21,000 to £25,000 a year.

May said the government would freeze undergraduate tuition fees at £9,250 a year until 2019 and announced a review of student funding to look at long-term issues, such as a return to maintenance grants and varying tuition fees for courses.

The Independent reports that the Conservatives “are also considering cutting interest rates on student loan repayments - which have rocketed for recent graduates”.

Does this differ from Labour?

Dramatically. The pledge to keep fees at £9,000 falls far short Labour’s £10bn pre-election promise to scrap university tuition fees altogether.

However, that plan has proved controversial, especially after Jeremy Corbyn appeared to go back on claims made in the run up to the election that a Labour government would wipe out all student debts, a proposal the Tories claimed would cost over £100bn.

What has the reaction been?

Despite The Daily Telegraph describing the plans as a “revolution” in higher education, calling this a “freeze” on tuition fees in England “is a distinctly positive spin on abandoning a policy of increasing fees above £9,250 only put in place this year”, says BBC education correspondent Sean Coughlan.

The timing of May’s promise to freeze fees was “met with fury from Labour MPs”, says the London Evening Standard.

Describing the plans as “desperate”, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “The fact Theresa May thinks she can win over young people by pledging to freeze tuition fees only weeks after increasing them to £9,250 shows just how out of touch she is.”

Another Labour MP, Luke Pollard, highlighted the “total cheek of the PM to boast about freezing tuition fees having just hiked them, cut support and increased loan interest rates!”

The Prime Minister’s proposals are “modest compared with Labour’s promise to abolish tuition fees altogether, but Mrs May believes such a move would undermine university funding and mainly help higher-earning graduates”, says the Financial Times.

What this shows “is how quickly the politics have changed - with rising fees and ballooning debts now a toxic combination for any party wanting to court young voters”, says the BBC's Coughlan.

However, he adds that the big question will be “whether cancelling an increase will be a bold enough move compared with promises to scrap them altogether”.

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