Labour leader Keir Starmer says his party wants to “move on”’ from its pledge to abolish university tuition fees in England.
FactCheck takes a look.
What was Labour’s tuition fee pledge?
Over recent years, a key commitment of the Labour party has been to scrap or cut university tuition fees in England.
During his Labour leadership campaign in 2020 , Sir Keir included it in his list of ten pledges.
His predecessor Jeremy Corbyn also vowed to scrap the fees, including it in the party’s 2017 and 2019 election manifestos, while the previous leader, Ed Miliband, proposed cutting fees to £6,000 a year.
What has Keir Starmer said about scrapping tuition fees?
Keir Starmer said on Tuesday that Labour is planning to “move on” from this commitment.
Asked about the policy on BBC Radio 4, he said: “We are likely to move on from that commitment because we do find ourselves in a different financial situation.”
But Mr Starmer said that the current system was “unfair” and that it “doesn’t really work” for students or for universities.
He said the party is “looking at options for how we fund these fees”, though he didn’t say what these are.
Labour has been approached for comment about these potential options – we’ll update this article if we hear back.
How much would it cost to abolish tuition fees?
The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) told FactCheck that for students starting from 2023 scrapping tuition fees would have cost the taxpayer around £9.5 billion for each batch of graduates.
If maintenance grants – money to help with living costs – were reintroduced, the estimate would be around £11 billion per cohort.
The IFS said this figure is higher than the £8 billion it projected in 2017 largely because of the new student loan reforms, which will see the repayment threshold lowered and a majority of students repaying the full value of their loans.
How progressive is the current student loan system?
You’ll often hear economists talk about whether a given policy is “progressive” or not. In other words, are the greatest costs born by the highest earners?
Ben Waltmann, senior research economist at the IFS, said the current system – for people who started university between 2012 and 2022 – “is very progressive in the sense that among borrowers, high-earnings graduates typically pay back a lot more than lower-earning graduates”.
But the government is making changes to student loans which will come in later this year. While the interest rate will be lower, the repayment threshold will also come down meaning graduates will start paying their loan back sooner. The repayment period will also get longer.
Mr Waltmann said that under the new system student loans will be “less progressive in the sense that higher earners will pay less and lower earners will pay more”.
However, he added those at the bottom of the lifetime earnings rankings will be “largely protected as they will still rarely earn more than the repayment threshold”.