Andrea Leadsom: Government 'hears the mood' of Tory MPs concerned with student debt
The Conservative position on tuition fees was thrown into doubt again today when a minister said the Government was considering how to respond to criticisms of the system.
Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the Commons, insisted it was right that graduates contribute to the cost of their higher education – but she acknowledged that the “mood of many colleagues” was growing concerned about the debt burden.
Earlier in the week, the Government had cooled speculation that it could change the current framework, after First Secretary of State Damian Green called for a “national debate” on the issue.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report on the tuition fees system on Wednesday which said three-quarters of new students would not repay the full amount they borrow.
In the Commons this afternoon, Conservative backbencher Richard Graham said that he and “a number” of other Tory MPs were unhappy about the coming hike in interest rates, caused by higher inflation.
“While the original policy introduced by the Coalition Government was widely supported and remains progressive, things have changed slightly because the level of interest at which both living costs and studies will be repaid rises to 6.1% this September,” Mr Graham said.
“I think a number of us are very concerned about this and could I therefore urge my RHF to find government time for that debate which the First Secretary of State intimated he would like to see too?”
In response, Ms Leadsom stressed that student debt – which is written off after 30 years and not repaid until graduates earn at least £21,000 – was “not like a normal commercial loan”.
But she said there was a degree of discontent on the Tory benches, and hinted that the Department for Education could revisit the issue.
The minister added: “The taxpayer contributes significantly still to the cost of higher education for university students and it’s right that those who will benefit from the higher earnings attracted from graduate roles should contribute to that cost.
“However, I think the mood of many colleagues has been heard and I’m quite sure that the Department for Education are considering this.”
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