Official portrait of Labour Leader Keir Starmer
Credit: Creative Commons, Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

Oxford reacts to Labour reversing tuition fees campaign promise

Sir Keir Starmer has announced that the Labour Party is set to “move on” from his plan to abolish tuition fees in England.

The potential future Prime Minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that, although the current fees of up to £9,250 per year were “unfair”, the “financial situation” made it impossible to drop them entirely. 

The decision came following a report by the Sutton Trust, which revealed that almost half of undergraduate students had missed lectures or deadlines to undertake paid work.

Living costs have continued to rise in Oxford, with many students claiming that their colleges will be raising accommodation and meal fees significantly this coming academic year. Last October, University College was criticised after refusing to turn its heating on, even as temperatures hit -1℃ .

During his Labour leadership campaign in 2020, Sir Keir followed his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, by including the removal of tuition fees in his ten pledges. The Conservative government decided in March 2023 to raise student loan repayments, claiming that the new system would be fairer. 

Alex Boardman, president of Mansfield College JCR, commented: “In choosing to abandon his commitment to abolish tuition fees, Starmer has chosen to entrench inter-generational inequality.

“It feels like Starmer must know that the system is the worst of all worlds – universities are under-resourced and students are crippled with debt – but that he lacks the political guts to actually challenge it. Yet again, politicians are throwing students under the bus.”

Ali Khosravi, co-chair of Oxford University Labour Club, commented: “We will have to wait and see what we will be in the next manifesto and we can only imagine what a fiscal mess the next Labour government and Rachel Reeves in the Treasury will inherit if elected in 2024.

“But given that the current tuition fee model is broken, we would strongly urge the leadership to prioritise reforming funding for higher education in a way that is fairer at the earliest possible opportunity.

“The current model is essentially a regressive graduate tax which punishes those from low-income backgrounds who will have to take on more debt and those who choose not to go into high-paying corporate careers and will have to pay back their student debts for longer at a punishing rate of interest.”

The Student Union’s VP for Access and Academic Affairs, Jade Calder, added: “The SU has long opposed tuition fees, and continuously advocates about rises in fees at University meetings. Therefore, it is disappointing that a major political party also no longer believes in the right to free access to higher education.

“I can only worry what impact this policy change could have on future first generation and low-income students who might be dissuaded from experiencing an enriching university experience.”

Image description: official portrait of Labour leader Keir Starmer

Image credit: Houses of Parliament, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)