UK Politics

Tuition fees: MPs debate petition urging cut to £3,000

Students at graduation ceremony Image copyright PA

A petition calling for student tuition fees to be cut by nearly 70% to £3,000 has been debated in Parliament.

It argues the maximum annual fee of £9,250 in England will leave students in debt and put people off enrolling.

The online petition attracted 164,166 signatures, meaning it has to be considered for debate by MPs, one of who, Labour's Mike Hill, lead it.

Ministers have announced a review of student funding after it became a major issue in the general election.

Labour, which first introduced tuition fees in 1998 and increased them to £3,000 in 2006, are now committed to scrapping them.

The government has said it has responded to concerns about the burden on students by increasing the earnings threshold at which many graduates have to start repaying their loans from £21,000 to £25,000.

The maximum amount that universities can charge, which was due to rise to more than £9,500 next year in line with inflation, has been frozen while the current 6.1% interest rates on loans is to be re-examined.

Monday's debate on tuition fees, which took place in Westminster Hall, will not change policy but it gave MPs a platform to discuss one of the most politically charged issues in England.

Originally launched in 2016 - when the maximum fee was £9,000 - the petition was selected for debate by the petitions committee of MPs, after it secured the 100,000 signatures needed to be considered.

The petition states: "University fees are rising more and more. £9,000 for university fees is too high and the stress of being in debt is what puts individuals off applying for a degree.

"Now that grants have been removed it makes it difficult for families who need financial support but can't get that anymore."

Maintenance grants for students were abolished in 2015 and replaced by loans, which led to claims that some students starting university this year could emerge with an average debt of around £57,000.

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Media captionTheresa May talking about student finance changes in October

The current student finance system was put in place by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition after Parliament controversially approved plans in 2011 to allow universities to charge up to £9,000.

Ministers insist the system, in which no-one has to pay upfront and all outstanding debts are written off after 30 years, has not put off students from poorer backgrounds from going to university.

They point to figures suggesting the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education rose from 13.6% in 2009 to 19.5% in 2016 and that the level of university support for disadvantaged students has more than doubled in the past eight years to £833.5m.

The government has warned that lowering tuition fees could potentially result in the closure of some universities and the re-imposition of controls on student numbers.

It has also said taxes could go up to fill the funding gap, with the large number of people who did not enjoy a university education paying for others to do so in future.

Monday's debate also provided a chance for MPs to raise related issues such as the pay of vice-chancellors, which has been in the spotlight amid a row over the £468,000 salary of Bath's Prof Dame Glynis Breakwell.

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