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UK government to freeze tuition fees, raise repayment earnings threshold

Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, arrives back at the Midland Hotel on the opening day of the Conservative Party Conference, in Manchester, Britain October 1, 2017. Source: Reuters/Hannah McKay

University tuition fees are set to freeze and the repayment earnings threshold is set to rise to GBP25,000 (US$33,400) as part of a new Conservative scheme designed to placate students angry at the hike in tuition fees seen under the Tory government.

The plans were announced as part of a bigger scheme by the Department for Education to introduce new education measures across the country to provide opportunity for all and ensure the UK has the skills needed entering into a post-Brexit economy.

Speaking at the start of the Conservative party conference in Manchester, Theresa May announced plans to raise the income level that triggers student loan repayments for recent graduates in England from GBP21,000 to GBP25,000 a year.

This will delay repayment for those low-earning graduates, although it will likely only apply to those graduates who took out the higher rate of student loans introduced in 2012. According to The Guardian, this will perversely mean that earlier graduates will have higher loan repayments even if they are on the same income level as later graduates with much higher debts.

Students can also expect a freeze in tuition fees at GBP9,250 (US$12,300) a year in England and a complete review of student funding. This is likely to include more radical changes, such as lowering fees altogether, slashing the interest rate on student debt and possibly bringing back maintenance grants.

“We are pledging to help students with an immediate freeze in maximum fee levels and by increasing the amount graduates can earn before they start paying their fees back,” May said as the Conservative party conference opened.

May’s pledge to overhaul the tuition fees system is seen as an effort to win over young voters who overwhelmingly voted for Labour in the June general election. Tuition fees were set to rise this year to GBP9,500 (US$12,637) in line with inflation, but it was seen as a politically sticky move.

With rising levels of student debt, and average debts on graduation rising close to GBP50,000 (US$67,000) for those who began studying in 2012, the fee hikes were blamed for the Tories’ poor support among the younger demographic.

The move has been met with scepticism from those in her own party who recognise Labour – who plans to scrap tuition fees altogether – is always likely to undercut anything the Conservatives are willing to offer.

Labour MP Luke Pollard pointed out this reality on Twitter, saying “So your choice is annual tuition fees of GBP9,250 (US$12,305) with the Conservatives or annual tuition fees of £0 with Labour.”

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