The Labour Party will scrap tuition fees “once and for all” if the party wins power, the shadow Chancellor has said.
In interviews today, the party refused to say whether or not axing fees – of up to £9,250 per year at English universities – will be in the party’s manifesto.
But footage has emerged of John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, revealing the policy during a speech in Mansfield.
“It’s not a commodity to be bought and sold,” Mr McDonnell said, of education, at the event two weeks ago.
“So we want to introduce – just as the Attlee government with Nye Bevan introduced the National Health Service – we want to introduce a ‘National Education Service’.
“Free at the point of need throughout life. And that means ending the cuts in the schools at primary and secondary level. It means free childcare. It means free school training when you need it throughout life.
“And yes it means scrapping tuition fees once and for all so we don’t burden our kids with debt for the future.”
The Coalition’s tripling of tuition fees in 2012 forced a collapse in the Liberal Democrats’ poll ratings, which all but wiped out Nick Clegg’s party three years later.
Labour’s policy at the last election – merely to cut tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 a year – was criticised as timid.
In the 2015 party leadership campaign which followed, Mr Corbyn said he would get rid of tuition fees by hiking either National Insurance for higher earners or corporation tax.
In recent weeks, Labour has been criticised for appearing to indicate several priority areas it would fund from hiking corporation tax.
But it insists an annual £20bn will eventually be raised by increasing corporation tax from its current 19 per cent rate to 26 per cent by 2021-22.
That would more than cover a £5.7bn cash injection for beleaguered English schools, restoring both university maintenance grants and the education maintenance allowance and axing fees on courses for adult learners, Labour says.
Meanwhile, critics of high tuition fees argue they will soon cost the public purse more than before they were tripled, as more students fail to earn enough to pay back their loans.
The write-off costs have topped 45 per cent of the more than £10bn of student loans made each year, all but nullifying any savings to the public purse.
Today, Angela Rayner, the shadow Education Secretary, said “watch this space” when asked if a pledge to axe tuition fees would quickly follow.
She “didn’t want to give too much of the manifesto away” on a day when Labour was focusing on its plans to spend billions boosting schools and further education.
Labour enjoys 55 per cent support among students, according to a poll last week. The party appears to be succeeding in a voter registration drive.
In his speech, Mr McDonnell said scrapping tuition fees would help make Britain “radically fairer, radically more equal”, adding: “What do you call that? I call it socialism?”
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