A Labour government 'would cut tuition fees by at least £3,000 a year'

Miliband set to pledge cut to controversial £9,000 maximum fee

Ed Miliband is expected to announce that a Labour government would cut university tuition fees by at least £3,000 a year, it was claimed last night.

The cut would see the £9,000 maximum fee reduced to £6,000 - and Mr Miliband may go even further.

He is said to be studying a radical plan for reform of tuition fees being proposed by John Denham, the former Universities Secretary, which would reduce tuition fees to a £4,000 maximum.

Mr Miliband is also alleged to be thinking of using any cut in what students have to pay as the first step towards an eventual scrapping of the whole tuition fees system and its replacement by a tax on graduates.

Some opponents of tuition fees see a graduate tax as a fair way of preventing students from being saddled with large debts.

The expected pledge to cut tuition fees would form part of Mr Miliband’s strategy of focusing on the cost of living, while trying to counter Conservative attempts to win middle class votes on issues like pension reform and inheritance tax, according to Sunday Times.

His advisors are allegedly urging him to make a final decision university fees in time to announce the new policy at this autumn’s party conference.

The £6,000 maximum fee was said to have been enthusiastically welcomed in focus groups, but  Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, would need to find at least £1.7bn a year to ensure that universities do not lose money through a fees cut.

John Denham’s alternative plan would grant each student a voucher-style “entitlement” of £15,000 that they could take to any university. This would be equivalent to £5,000 a year for a typical three-year degree. Universities could charge fees on top of this if the cost of teaching their course was higher than the £15,000.

Mr Denham, who will present his plan in parliament on Tuesday, does not believe these fees would need to be more than £4,000 a year, meaning students would graduate with far lower debts.

He is expected to argue that the plans would not cost the taxpayer extra, because they would lead to fewer debt write-offs. Official estimates released earlier this month that 45% of student loans will have to be written off.

The Sunday Times also reports that the Conservatives are considering their own reforms of the university fees system.

Paul Kirby, Cameron’s former policy chief, is thought to be investigating whether some lower-ranked universities should be stripped of their right to charge tuition fees if excessive numbers of students fail to complete courses or to find graduate-level jobs.

The Conservatives could allow elite universities to increase fees if they meet strict conditions on ensuring access for students from poor families. The Treasury is also said to be considering a minimum qualification for students to go to university to reduce numbers and stem the costs.

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