Labour demands pledge that Coalition will not raise tuition fees beyond £9,000

Ed Miliband calls on David Cameron and Nick Clegg not to raise costs

Ed Miliband challenged David Cameron and Nick Clegg last night to pledge that they will not raise tuition fees beyond £9,000.

A dossier by the Labour Party showed repeated occasions when senior Conservative and Liberal Democrat figures have failed to rule out a rise in fees, with a new figure possibly as high as £15,000 a year.

The Labour leader said the dossier showed it was now up to the Prime Minister and his Lib Dem deputy to promise voters that the cost of university would not rise for students. Mr Miliband’s challenge came after he announced that a Labour government would cut tuition fees to £6,000 a year from next September, funded by a tax relief cut in pensions for higher earners.

Yet last night, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, claimed that the tax relief cut would affect senior nurses, hitting a matron who had worked 25 years with a charge of £5,000 on their pension pot.

 

The Labour dossier, published by shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna, revealed that the then universities minister David Willetts refused last year to rule out a rise in fees, while George Osborne’s special adviser, Neil O’Brien, has said: “Let the market decide the price of a degree.” In October last year, Margot James, a member of No 10 policy board, said that “fees in the future may even have to rise”.

The dossier also lists occasions when senior Lib Dems have not ruled out a rise – including in March last year by Mr Clegg during Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions. The Lib Dems’ pre-manifesto commits to a “review” of higher education funding, but does not mention fee levels.

Mr Miliband said yesterday: “We will build a country where the next generation can do better than the last, with tuition fees reduced to £6,000, an apprenticeship for every school leaver who gets the basic grades, and smaller class sizes for five-, six- and seven-year-olds.

“There is a clear choice in this election between the parties. A Labour government which will cut tuition fees, cutting the debt for graduates and for the taxpayer. The alternative is a Tory government – or a Tory-Lib Dem government again – which will fight tooth and nail to keep fees high.

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Ed Miliband has challenged the Coalition to pledge that they will not raise tuition fees beyond £9,000 (Getty)

“We know they have been actively discussing raising tuition fees to as much as £15,000 a year. They have admitted it. Today I challenge David Cameron and Nick Clegg to break the habit of a lifetime rather than break their promises. I challenge them to set out clearly, in plain view, what their plans are for tuition fees after the next election.”

A spokesman for Mr Clegg said last night: “There is a record rate of applications to university and a record number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university. We see no reason at all to change the current system when it is working well, unlike Labour who would rather play politics for a cheap headline and introduce a policy that will only benefit rich graduates in two or three decades’ time.”

When Labour’s new policy was launched on Friday, a row erupted over whether the fees cut would help only better-off graduates. Yet Labour insisted that graduates earning £42,000 a year or more would pay higher interest on their loans, while maintenance grants would rise from £3,400 to about £3,800 a year (at a cost of £200m) for students whose family income was below the 40p tax rate.

The row continued last night when the Health Secretary claimed that senior nurses would be hit by a pensions raid to fund the policy. Dr Peter Carter, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Helping students financially is important and worthy of support. However, this must not be at the expense of hard-working nurses.”

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