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Labour proposals may cause some students to ‘overpay’ fees

Milliband at recent party conference Photo: guardian.co.uk

The issue of tuition fee increases remains active, as the Labour Party proposes cutting the coalition tuition fee cap of £9,000 by a third. At the same, the National Union of Students (NUS) has pledged support to a major demonstration planned for 9 November. Ed Miliband announced the planned cap at the start of September’s Labour Party Conference in Liverpool. Miliband said “we want to take action to make it easier for people to go to university and not feel burdened down by debt.”

However, the Office for National Statistics argues that the whole student support system could be classed as a tax if Miliband’s plan were implemented, as it would require some students to “overpay” on their student loans. A key element of the proposal will force any graduate earning over £41,000 who settles their student loan within 20 years to make overpayments. Therefore these successful graduates would not benefit from Labour’s suggested cap on fees.

Alasdair Smith, former vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex, said he thought the proposal was also likely to lead to continued controls on student numbers due to the limit on funding. Miliband argues that the policy is “fully costed”, funded through a reversal of a corporation tax cut for the banks and by charging better-off graduates more interest on student loans.

The Labour Party was keen to stress however that this may not form part of the party’s next manifesto. Liam Burns, NUS President, sees the policy as better than the coalition’s £9,000 cap, but has said: “simply going back to a position of ‘well we’re only doubling them’ – that’s not quite good enough”. He would rather see a return to the previous £3,000 maximum.  Burns has called it a short-term solution, calling for a move to a graduate tax, and advocates abolishing tuition fees and changing to a different system of funding education.

In a press release the NUS has announced its support for a national demonstration on 9 November, following on from last November’s protests. A motion by the NUS National Executive Committee was passed to support a demonstration called by anti-cuts groups.  The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), a network of student and education worker activists, called for the demonstration. Michael Chessum of NCAFC said: “this government has scrapped support for the poorest school and further education students and has made millions unemployed, while making the worst cuts in the history of education.
“We are determined to save education as an accessible public service.”

Chessum expects tens of thousands of people to join the demonstration saying: “it’s vital that we keep fighting on education as well as linking to the broader movement.” NUS President Liam Burns has said: “the proposals in the new White Paper are even more damaging than the prospect of £9000 fees. The coalition is about to create the exact opposite of the ‘pupil premium,’ where students from the most debt adverse backgrounds are forced to ask for less money to be spent on their education.”

The coalition government’s £9,000 fee cap will come into force next academic year. Demonstrations organised by the NUS and the University and College Union (UCU) last November became notorious for student violence upon the capital, in which Conservatice Party headquarters were attacked. Clashes with the police led to over 50 arrests. The NUS represent 95 percent of the UK’s students unions in higher education and further education, equalling more than seven million students.

Liam Burns has stated “we’ll carry on trying to work with politicians of all parties to stop these damaging reforms. But when fees are trebled, EMA scrapped and even less money is spent on supporting students financially, don’t be surprised that demonstrations are here to stay.”
The national demonstration is set to take place on Wednesday 9 November in Central London.

Students will once more be protesting against government increases in tuition fees, cuts to public services and education and public sector privatisation.

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