Unfeasible fees: An unconventional take on Jeremy Corbyn’s plans for student payments.

In June of this summer I was sitting in a Labour Parliamentary office in the early days of the party’s leadership conflict. On the morning of the 15th  June, veteran left-winger Jeremy Corbyn won a last minute spot on the leadership ballot paper.

Fast forward to September: Corbyn had defied almost every odd to become the new Labour leader, bringing with him a fresh proposition of far-left policies that Britain has, in recent times become foreign to. This article will discuss Corbyn’s plans for student finances, a policy area that was a major mechanism for rallying support in his campaign. Following this there will be a brief analysis of what each party leader is trying to achieve with their separate actions, and a conclusion on why I feel Corbyn is a potentially reckless force on the higher education system.

What does Corbyn’s success mean? By the time the 66-year-old even has chance to become Prime Minister in May 2020 most of you reading this will (sadly) no longer be students, therefore Corbyn’s changes cannot even make a dint in your £27,000 debt. Depressing realisations aside, Corbyn’s student fees policy stands proudly as a direct opposition to the Coalition’s decision in 2010. In case you somehow aren’t aware of what that decision was, the Tory-LibDem marriage that came to power in the turn of a new century boosted student fees to a whopping £9000 per year. This means us students are paying three times the amount that those who began their studies just a few years ago were paying. Seem fair?

To easiest way to analyse Corbyn’s plans is by breaking our fees down into two parts: maintenance payments and tuition payments. Labour’s new proposition is to scrap tuition fees entirely, a radical change from Ed Miliband’s suggestion of merely reducing them by £3000 per year. Forgive me if I’m being cynical here, but aren’t decisions like this not just a tad but rather extremely idealistic? Mr Corbyn himself has admitted that his changes would cost £10.1bn, a monumental charge to implement on Britain’s economy.

So where, then, does the veteran left-winger aim to fund such changes? In an unsurprising forecast, Corbyn plans to impose higher taxes on wealthier households. In initial plans laid out in July, the leader suggested increasing national insurance to 7% for those who earn over £50,000 per year. Although this is nothing but good news for the student population, is it fair that just because someone earns above this amount they should give a greater portion away? Especially, that is, when percentage taxation already exists to ensure that someone who earns more puts more back into society (or so the story goes).

Moving away from tuition fees, Corbyn also laid out plans to bring back maintenance grants. To put this debate into context, one of the Conservatives’ policies in their first all-blue budget since 1996 announced plans for the abolishment of maintenance grants from September 2017. True to form, Corbyn’s policies aim to reverse these changes made by the Tories in what seems to be a hero-of-the-students decision to gain support.

But whose policy is best? As long as a larger loan is given to students to ensure everybody can still have the same university experience, do we really need the maintenance grant? Especially when it is a perhaps naïve assumption that just because a couple earn over a certain amount of money they will provide more funds for their child. In addition to this, many universities, Liverpool being a prime example, already have several bursaries given away each year to students of lower income families. There is, however, a natural conflict of opinion amongst students and those involved in higher education on this particular matter.

It is worth interjecting here with a brief analysis of what each party leader is trying to achieve with their decisions on student payments. Since John Major’s questionable decision in 1992 to turn thirty-five Polytechnic Colleges into university-status institutions, the number of people applying to, partaking in, and completing degree programmes has rocketed. This has led, unsurprisingly, to a shortage in jobs for graduates of even the highest calibre, who are now relying on extra curricular activities and exceptional social skills to set them apart from the competition.

So what effect does each party have on this? If we look at the Tories’ intentions, David Cameron seems to be trying to deter eighteen and nineteen-year-olds from the idea that a university degree is their only gateway to the career ladder, encouraging apprenticeships and vocational courses in the recent Conservative Conference in Manchester. Cameron is intending to achieve this by implementing off-putting high tuition fees on Britain’s students. Fees which currently stand at £9000 could potentially be raised to £12,000 per year for top institutions.

Corbyn’s policies for Labour, on the other hand, serve to reduce the financial burden of going to university, leaving very little to discourage eighteen and nineteen-year-olds from going through the higher education system. In my opinion this will have a devastating impact, deepening the already perilous depths of the post-graduate job pool. Although Corbyn is quite right in his opinion that paying £9000 for a year of education is astoundingly high, his own intentions for fees have a devastating potential that is often skipped over by the student masses.

So what does it all mean? Well, for now it means nothing unless Labour come into power in 2020. But support for these changes among left-wing activists and groups like Young Labour has been substantial. There must, however, be acknowledgement that Corbyn’s plans for student payments are idealistic and, in my eyes, operate in a far-left mindset that simply does not exist in Britain any more.

Am I fond of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies? Not particularly. There are some proposals of his that I agree with, especially his decision to campaign thoroughly to remain in the E.U. in the looming referendum. His action on student payments is simply not one of these policies, however, and I think the divide he has created even within his own party shows the backwardness of his ideas. This opinion is not one echoed by the majority of students across the country; most are in favour of Corbyn’s policies and will probably be the reason he gets into power, if he ever does. But it is worth considering the divide that the sixty-six-year-old has caused in the country and his own party. Labour’s main hope of seizing power in 2020 seems to be to show unity against the Tory government. Is Corbyn really the man to do this, when many of his party’s former main players see Labour’s values as being very separate from its leader’s?

Photo Credit: Sleeves Rolled Up via Compfight cc

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