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STUDENTS and education unions slammed Labour’s “betrayal of millions of young people in desperate need of hope” today after the party’s increasingly right-wing leadership dropped a pledge to abolish cripplingly high university tuition fees.
Sir Keir Starmer’s latest U-turn on yet another left-wing pledge which got him elected leader in 2020 will help to condemn “millions of future students to a life of debt” and leaves Britain even further away from the publicly funded higher education system it needs, they stressed.
The move is likely to draw criticism from the party’s left, which has repeatedly warned that attempts to please the right-wing press while failing to offer a genuinely progressive alternative will only benefit Tory Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
With Tory MPs branding Jeremy Corbyn’s successor “Sir Flip-Flop,” Mr Sunak attempted to capitalise on the situation in a fiery Prime Ministers Questions today saying Sir Keir has made a “series of broken promises.”
These include now abandoned pledges to renationalise public services, increase income tax for the highest earners and defend freedom of movement post-Brexit.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves attempted to defend the U-turns by blaming Downing Street’s chaotic handling of the economy for the policy shifts.
She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain today: “The Tories have crashed the economy and brought public services to their knees.
“That does mean that we need to look again at what we can afford and what our priorities will be if we have the privilege to form the next government.
“We have got work going on in a whole range of areas, including student finances. The next general election is probably a year, maybe more, away — we will set out our policies in good time.”
But University and College Union head Jo Grady said: “Keir Starmer repeatedly pledged to abolish the toxic system of tuition fees and in doing so was elected leader of the Labour Party.
“It is deeply disappointing for him to now be reneging on that promise, a move which would condemn millions of future students to a life of debt.
“The current, tuition fee-reliant, model is broken. It has saddled students with decades of debt, turned universities from sites of learning into labyrinthine businesses and led to staff pay and working conditions being degraded.
“The country desperately needs a publicly funded higher education system.”
Interest-incurring Student Finance loans cover the £9,250 which most universities charge a year for their courses — the maximum allowed under the current system introduced by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government in 2010.
Then Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg took most of the blame for the widely condemned move, which provoked fury from students, after he explicitly ruled out backing a tuition fee rise before that year’s general election.
A spokesperson for grassroots group Momentum urged Sir Keir to “learn from Nick Clegg’s failure, not repeat it.
“Keir was elected on a promise to abolish tuition fees. With higher education in crisis and young people facing a future of high rents and even higher debts, this pledge is more urgent than ever.
“Trust matters — young people matter.”
Labour’s democratically elected student wing, the national Labour students committee, became the latest body affiliated to the party to demand the abolition of tuition fees this February.
Labour Students vice-chair Fabiha Askari said: “With our higher education system in crisis, young people saddled with high rent and massive debts, this policy is more urgent than ever before.
“We urge Keir Starmer to listen to the voice of students and keep his word. Anything less will be seen by young people as a massive betrayal of our futures and risks alienating our party’s core vote.”
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