Top Conservative minister Damian Green calls for 'national debate' on tuition fees
Top Conservative minister Damian Green has said there needs to be a “national debate” on tuition fees after the popularity of Labour’s manifesto pledge to scrap university charges.
Mr Green, who was promoted to First Secretary of State after last month’s election saw the Tories lose their overall majority, told a conference yesterday the Government needed to reflect on students’ misgivings about the level of debt they take on at university.
Tuition fees are currently capped at more than £9,000 per year – though students do not pay up front.
Labour’s manifesto pledged to abolish the fees altogether, at a cost of almost £10bn per year.
Asked at a Bright Blue conference yesterday what his message was to pro-Labour students who were facing big debts, he said: “I think this is clearly a huge issue. I think in the long term we’ve got to show that they are getting value for the money.
“If we want to have 40%-plus of people going to university and if we want those university courses actually to be valuable, which I think is where the strain is often taken in European universities – you actually look at the teaching that you get in some European universities, you have lecture halls with 600 people in and things like that – it’s not actually as good a teaching and learning experience as you get in this country.”
He warned that to cut or abolish the fees, either student numbers would have to fall or “the experience would be less”.
“Because the only other way you can get extra money to go in, if you wanted the same number of people, the same kind of teaching, would be to take it from working people through their taxes… it may well be that this is a national debate that we need to have,” Mr Green added.
Elsewhere, Universities Minister Jo Johnson took to Twitter to hit out at Jeremy Corbyn’s claim that fewer working-class people were applying to university, when the long-term trend shows low-income student applications increasing.