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Education is an investment worth paying for — through general taxation

UNIVERSITY tuition fees were introduced by a New Labour government and then trebled by the Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition, making an unjust policy even worse.

The educational crisis of students leaving their degree courses with debts of £50,000 or more was caused by government. It can be repaired by government.

Apart from all but wiping out the Liberal Democrats in Parliament, including their deceitful leader Nick Clegg, tuition fees — effectively a tax on aspiration — have become a financial albatross around the necks of postgraduates.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who opposed their introduction and increases, won his party over to that position so that it appeared in the party’s election manifesto and was a factor driving Labour’s vote up last year.

Theresa May’s administration wants to regain electoral ground and has set up a government commission to examine higher education funding in England, which is expected to recommend that fees be lowered.

But, as with so many aspects of government policy, especially public-sector wages, Tory ministers proclaim an end of austerity or even recommend a pay increase but refuse to fund it fully.

Students are justifiably concerned that a similar situation will arise with tuition fees.

Simply trimming fees without making up the funding shortfall that universities will experience would be a receipt for further rationing of educational opportunities.

Despite Tory claims that the age of austerity is over, the reality is that the squeeze on public spending is alive and damaging, with continued pressure on essential public services.

Universities must not be forced into making choices between staff cuts or course closures — or both.

Educating our children, whether through academic or vocational courses, is an investment that should benefit them and wider society.

As ever, we are told that finance is scarce, but it is a matter of choosing priorities. While education, health and public services have been squeezed, the government has frittered billions away on nuclear-armed submarines and aircraft carrier white elephants.

While Britain buffs up its post-empire imperial pretensions to rule the waves, as though this country was a global power like the United States — or even Russia or China — the likes of Germany and Japan have invested in manufacturing.

We should not be intimidated by taunts about magic money trees, when the merchants of death benefit from entire forests of these mythical specimens.

But there must also be greater recognition of the role of taxation in paying for society’s commitments.

Tory governments make a fetish of creating a small state, with a consequent reduction in taxation, especially income tax and corporation tax, that benefits the wealthiest individuals and companies most.

Labour has already pledged to increase taxation on the richest 5 per cent and to cancel the Tories’ promises to reduce corporation tax.

But the opposition should also explain more forcefully that Tory headline-grabbing announcements that so many low-income people have been removed from paying income tax altogether by raising the tax threshold over and above the rate of inflation actually benefits those at the top of the heap far more than those scraping along at the bottom.

There is no economic salvation for low earners in remaining so poor as to not qualify for paying income tax.

Workers and their organisations have to demand a greater share of the wealth they create, either through direct claims to individual employers or by boosting the minimum wage to the level of the real national living wage.

Greater tax receipts, administered by a socialist Labour government, would assist better policy choices, including eradication of tuition fees.

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