The debate on university tuition fees needs to be reopened in a “national conversation”, a top Conservative minister has said.
Damian Green, the newly appointed First Secretary of State, was speaking to the Bright Blue think tank when he said the Tories would have to “change hard” in order to entice to young educated voters away from Labour.
Jeremy Corbyn’s party forced a hung parliament in the general election, with many suggesting this was due to a surge in support from younger voters.
Labour’s manifesto included a promise to scrap tuition fees, which are currently capped at £9,250 a year.
Mr Green said the fees kept education standards high and that the only alternative – while maintaining good quality courses – would be to increase taxes.
“I think this is clearly a huge issue,” he said. “I think in the long term we’ve got to show that they are getting value for the money.
“If we want to have 40 per cent plus of people going to university and if we want those university courses actually to be valuable, which I think is where the strain is often taken in European universities – you actually look at the teaching that you get in some European universities, you have lecture halls with 600 people in and things like that – it’s not actually as good a teaching and learning experience as you get in this country.
“If you wanted to say you want to reduce [fees] then either fewer people go to university or the experience would be less.
The minister said “the only other way you can get extra money to go in, if you wanted the same number of people, the same kind of teaching, would be to take it from working people through their taxes.
"Governments have to take money from everyone at work and companies that provide jobs to provide those essential services.
“And it may well be that this is a national debate that we need to have.”
Tuition fees have been a topic of particular contention in recent years. There were protests and rioting in 2010 after the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government voted to increase the cap, which was previously £3,000 a year.
Mr Green, who is in many respects Ms May’s deputy, also spoke of a range of policies that would be required to attract younger voters. He claimed that affordable homes and job creation must be at the centre of future party strategy.
He also appeared to criticise the former Prime Minister David Cameron and suggested that he did not take the right approach to modernising – seemingly passing the blame for losing younger voters to previous party policy.
Mr Green did however go on to praise Mr Cameron’s efforts later on in the speech, contradicting his previous remarks by referring to the former Prime Minister as a moderniser.
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