For once this week, Theresa May finally seemed to admit that the Tory Government had got something wrong, when she ordered a new education review.
But despite this week’s spin, the Tory record is clear – they have failed students and education in Britain.
They have trebled tuition fees, abolished maintenance grants and left students graduating with debts of up to £57,000.
The Prime Minister’s announcement followed the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee publishing a report on student loans, saying that the committee was “unconvinced that the interest rates currently charged on student loans can be justified on re-distributive grounds”.
It added that “Nor has any other persuasive explanation been provided for why student loan interest rates should exceed those prevailing in the market, the Government’s own cost of borrowing, and the rate of inflation.”
Labour has rightly labelled the government’s announcement of this “long-winded review” as an “unnecessary waste of time” and pointed out that, in contrast to the Tories, the party has a fully-costed plan to scrap tuition fees in higher education and further education colleges, providing life-long education through Further Education colleges, and bring back maintenance grants and EMA to make our system of student finance fair and sustainable.
Jeremy Corbyn is the only leader of the major parties who stands unequivocally for free education, and despite the launch of this review, the Tories have made no clear commitment to keep tuition fee rises and student debt levels under control.
To put it simply, in stark contrast to Theresa May’s Tories, Jeremy can be 100 per cent trusted on this issue and has an outstanding record.
Myself, Tony Benn and Jeremy were among those MPs who rebelled against Tony Blair’s decision to introduce tuition fees in 1998.
I remember speaking alongside student campaigners for free education who rightly warned that the New Labour government’s decision was the thin end of the wedge when it came to passing the costs of education on to students themselves.
The last rise in tuition fees from the Tories showed how the principled position of arguing for investment in free education has been proven correct time and again, and these rises came at time when England has become one of the most expensive places to study in the world — students are graduating with an average debt of over £50,000.
While there has been much discussion, and rightly so, about the effect of crippling levels of student debt on individuals, too often missing from the debate over tuition fees over the last 19 years has been a discussion on the central role higher education could play in promoting long-term prosperity for the British economy and growth in the future.
As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development put it in 2010: “Even after taking account of the cost to the public Exchequer of financing degree courses, higher tax revenues and social contributions from people with university degrees make tertiary education a good long-term investment.”
Indeed, free education would pay for itself. The government’s own figures show that for every £1 invested in higher education, the economy expands by £2.60.
The rewards of investing in free higher education couldn’t be higher — both in that we need to invest in education to give young people the chance to fulfil their potential and in that we need to invest in education to ensure Britain has a highly skilled, high-growth economy in the long term.
This would especially be the case if such investment was alongside investment in technology and infrastructure as promised by Labour in its 2017 Manifesto ‘For the Many, Not the Few.’
As the Nobel prize-winning economist and former head of the World Bank Professor Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out, “investments in technology, education and infrastructure … will stimulate the economy and create jobs in the short run and promote growth and debt reduction in the long run.”
Indeed, Germany has scrapped tuition fees in recent years — proving that free education is possible.
And of course, if the government genuinely clamped down on tax avoidance, or made the 1 per cent pay their fair share, billions of pounds would be made available to fund free education and other vital public services such as the NHS. The scale of the Tories’ tax giveaways for the super-rich are massive, and Jeremy Corbyn and Labour are quite right to insist these resources should instead be used to invest in Britain’s future.
We mustn’t let the Tories and their media mogul mates distract us from the key issues as they throw every smear and misrepresentation in the Left’s direction in a bid to keep Labour out of power.
Let’s be 100 per cent clear: whatever some of the Tory supporting media is saying this week only Labour and Jeremy Corbyn in government will invest in our future — including investing in free education to benefit our economy and society.
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