The debate on tuition fees

As Theresa May appears to U-turn over tuition fees, we examine the history of the debate.

Philip Hammond and the Prime Minister visiting the University of Warwick

Higher Education tuition fees were first introduced across the entire United Kingdom in 1998 - under the first Labour government of Tony Blair, with students paying £1,000 a year for tuition. Since then, devolved administrations have developed their own tuition fees schemes - so Higher Education varies across the country.

In England, fees went up with the Higher Education Act 2004. Universities in England could henceforth begin to charge up to £3000 a year. Soon after, both Northern Ireland and Wales introduced the higher rates - which soon went up to £3,225 to account for inflation.

Despite much controversy and protest, fees soon went up to a cap of £9,000 in England under the Coalition government, before recently adjusting for inflation. Tuition fees are now capped at £9,250 a year for UK and EU students, with around 76% of all institutions charging the full amount in 2015-16. After the debate was reignited during the 2017 election, with Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party pledging to scrap fees entirely and wipe debt for previous students, Theresa May has performed (yet another) U-turn on policy.

As the Conservative Party Conference rumbles onwards (with very few Boris gaffes at the time of writing,) one of the key newsbites has been the Conservative suggestion that they could freeze tuition fees - despite previous suggestions they would continue to rise - and raise the threshold at which student loans are paid back. Such policy suggestions will prove controversial both inside and out of the Party - with senior Conservatives deliberating between the need to win back youth support, and the risk of giving the intellectual ground to Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, Corbynites will see any move towards their position as a suggestion that Corbyn's shadow cabinet is a government in waiting.

Where next for fees?

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