‘Free education’: Labour MP pledges to scrap £9k uni tuition fees, restore grants

Jeremy Corbyn ©Stephen Hird
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn has announced a £10 billion plan to scrap university tuition fees and restore maintenance grants. The politician says he has two ways of funding the “bold” plan.

He suggested one option could be to slow the rate at which the deficit is reduced, while another could be to increase corporation tax by 2.5 percent and raise National Insurance contributions for anyone on a salary of £50,000 or more by seven percent.

Tuition fees in Britain are among the highest in Europe, with university graduates in the UK owing an average amount of £44,000 ($68,000) after leaving education.

A report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) published in April 2013 said British students will be paying back their loans well into their 50s.

Corbyn has experienced a surge in popularity since announcing his candidacy for the Labour leadership in June, with private polls seen by the New Statesmen on Wednesday revealing he could top the ballot in the first round of voting.

The announcement made by the left-wing MP for Islington North on tuition fees is an attempt to strengthen his support among young Labour members.

The Labour leader hopeful has also appointed the recently elected National Union of Students (NUS) welfare vice-president Shelly Asquith as head of his student campaigning team.

His aides said the cost of scrapping tuition fees would be £7.1 billion ($11 billion), while the cost of restoring maintenance grants would come to £3 billion ($4.6 billion).

READ MORE: Thousands embrace sex work to fund university costs, study finds

In an interview with the Huffington Post on Wednesday, Corbyn apologized to young people for his party’s introduction of fees in 1998.

I want to apologize on behalf of the Labour party to the last generation of students for the imposition of fees, top-up fees and the replacement of grants with loans by previous Labour governments. I opposed those changes at the time – as did many others – and now we have an opportunity to change course,” he said.

The veteran left-winger described his policy as a “bold plan” to bring the UK in line with other European nations which do not charge tuition fees for university education.

Education is not about personal advancement but is a collective good that benefits our society and our economy,” he said.

There are no student fees in Scotland, Germany and twelve other European countries, I want to bring all UK students into line with that sensible approach.

READ MORE: 3 in 4 UK students will be repaying loans into their 50s – study

Corbyn’s first major policy announcement comes as two private polls seen by the New Statesman suggest he could finish ahead in the first round of voting.

The survey’s results are likely to alarm senior Labour MPs from the Miliband and Blair era, who are said to be discussing how to prevent a Corbyn victory.

Students are increasingly turning to sex work and gambling in order to pay for their basic living costs, according to reports by Save the Student and the University of Swansea’s ‘Student Sex Work’ project.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair introduced Britain’s first tuition fees of £1,000 ($1,500) per year in 1998, a year after Labour’s landslide victory.

The Coalition government increased tuition fees to £9,000 ($14,000) per year in 2012, a move which cost the Liberal Democrats much of their political support and contributed to their near-decimation in this year’s general election.