Starmer to ditch Labour’s ‘free’ university tuition pledge

Labour leader also says £9,250 fee status quo in England is ‘unfair’

May 2, 2023

Labour is set to abandon its commitment to abolish university tuition fees and fund English higher education through direct public spending, leader Sir Keir Starmer has said.

Sir Keir told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the party was “looking at options” on how to fund universities.

But he signalled that the commitment to “free” university education – which he backed during his leadership campaign, continuing the position adopted by former leader Jeremy Corbyn – would go.

“We are likely to move on from that commitment because we do find ourselves in a different financial situation,” Sir Keir said.

But the Labour leader added that the existing system, under which fees of £9,250 a year are levied, was “unfair” because it “doesn’t work for students and doesn’t work for universities”.

The party would “set out a fairer solution” in the coming weeks, he said.

Sir Keir told The Times: “University tuition fees are not working well. They burden young people going forward. Obviously we have got a number of propositions in relation to those fees that we will put forward as we go into the election.

“But I have to be honest about it – the damage that has been done to our economy means that we are going to have to cost everything as we go into that election and we will do that with discipline.”

The Times said the Labour leader was preparing a speech for later this month in which he would reverse his position.

One key question is whether Sir Keir’s position leaves scope for the party to adopt a graduate tax policy – a long-standing debate within Labour – or whether the party will go with a more cautious pledge to hold a review of university funding if the party wins the next election.

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