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When we reformed student finance in 2011, we put in place a system designed to make higher education accessible to all. It is working well: total funding for the sector has increased and it is forecast to reach £31 billion by 2017-18. It is vital to our future economic success that higher education remains sustainably funded.
Last year, the current Leader of the Opposition announced that he was keen to scrap tuition fees. Senior Labour party figures have criticised that, saying that it was not a credible promise to make, with Lord Mandelson, among others, noting that Labour had
“to be honest about the cost of providing higher education.”
Of course, it was not just Lord Mandelson. The former shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, went further when he noted that his party’s failure to identify a sustainable funding mechanism was a “blot on Labour’s copybook”.
The Opposition need to explain how they would fund their alternatives. The Labour party has said that scrapping tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants would cost £10 billion. At a conservative estimate, this would cost £40 billion over a five-year Parliament. Not allowing high-quality institutions to increase their fees by inflation would deprive the sector of a further £3 billion by the end of this Parliament, but Labour would like to go further still. Increasing the repayment threshold for post-2012 student loans by average earnings would cost more than £6 billion by the end of this Parliament. Uprating it for all loans would cost over £7 billion. Where is all this money going to come from?
By contrast, the OECD has praised our student loan system that this Government introduced in England. It said that we are
“one of the few countries to have figured out a sustainable approach to higher education finance”.