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Last year, the Leader of the Opposition announced that he was keen to scrap tuition fees, a key architectural feature of our sustainable funding system, which prompted Lord Mandelson recently to describe the move as “not credible” and not “an honest promise”. It is important that we are honest when making commitments to the general public. That key point by Lord Mandelson in his interview with the Times Higher Education mirrored similar remarks by former shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, who went even further when he described the Labour party’s failure to identify a sustainable funding mechanism for higher education as a blot on Labour’s copy book.
I encourage the Opposition to face reality on how to put in place a sustainable funding system and to explain exactly how they would provide a serious, real-world alternative to what we are doing. The Labour party has said that scrapping tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants would cost £10 billion a year. A conservative estimate is that it would cost £40 billion over a normal five-year Parliament. In contrast, the OECD has praised the student loan system that this Government have introduced in England and said that we are one of the few countries to figure out a sustainable approach to higher education finance.
I understand that there were concerns that the changes might have deterred students from entering higher education, but we have seen that that was a dog that did not bark. The evidence has shown that participation continues to rise following our reforms in 2012. The latest data from UCAS suggest that it will continue to do so.