One of the main reasons that the Liberal Democrats were able to capture such a large amount of the student vote in the 2010 general election was their pledge on tuition fees. Five years later as we enter the final weeks before the campaign proper, the issue of funding higher education once again appears to be taking the headlines after Ed Miliband announced that a Labour government would reduce tuition fees to £6,000 a year.
However, the Labour leader’s pledge offers nothing more than moderate change that in reality will have little effect on students. Whether students come out of university with £27,000 worth of tuition fees debt or £18,000 quite frankly makes little difference. Both amounts are still so high that students will probably never actually pay off the full amount before it is scrapped after the 30-year cut off.
The Sutton Trust claims that under the current system a graduate who earns 50% more than the average graduate will still owe £39,000 by the age of 40. Consequently a reduction of £9,000 over three years will make no difference.
It should probably be little surprise therefore that the Green Party is so popular with students. They are offering something that is really radical for students. Not only are they offering to reverse the coalition’s tripling of course costs they are offering to get rid of tuition fees altogether.
If Labour are to capture the student vote come 7th May they need to offer students a change which will make a real difference to them. Offering quasi-change is, if anything, likely to annoy students as it appears like a desperate attempt to capture the student vote without actually caring for their wellbeing.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have both already stated that they have no intentions of reducing tuition fees. At least they have consequently made a firm stand on the issue stating their beliefs.
In contrast, Labour have muted their idea of reducing tuition fees for the past 12 months but have almost been too nervous to announce the policy in fear of the response.
This contrast in confidence with the way the other parties have made their opinions known on the issue makes the party look weak, and as if they have no clue as to exactly where they stand on the matter.
Individuals inside the Labour Party itself seem uncertain about the policy. Some have said that the proposal “doesn’t go far enough” while others seem to be annoyed that the policy has been pledged at all, seeing it as a step backwards.
Labour must get their act together very quickly if they wish to secure the student vote in May. Failure to provide a united, coherent policy which offers a real change for students will see them loose out to the Green Party.
This is particularly relevant in Norwich South given just how marginal the constituency is. Labour’s tuition fee policy could provide Lesley Grahame with the extra boost that she needs to beat Clive Lewis.