Theresa May, in a move designed to attract youth voters, revealed plans to cap tuition fees as they currently stand at £9,250 going forward. She announced the move in a Telegraph exclusive on Saturday September 30th, the day before the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. The policy locks student fees at their current level, but more significantly, increases the level of earnings at which student loans will start to be paid back from £21,000 to £25,000 a year.
‘THIS POLICY ANNOUNCEMENT REPRESENTS… A CONTINUATION OF THE PARTY’S INABILITY TO CONNECT WITH TODAY’S YOUNG PEOPLE.’
There are problems with the policy itself, which, although it represents a step in the right direction, is remarkably unattractive when compared with Corbyn’s promise to erase fees entirely. Prospective students will ‘only’ pay a total of £43,000 rather than the £57,000 that was threatened; not exactly cause for celebration. May has announced that along with the immediate lock on fees and the raise in mandatory earnings before payback, she will ‘consider’ reintroducing maintenance grants, and reducing the interest rates on loans. While the interest rates on student fees (around 6%) currently mean that students earning less than £30,000 after 30 years will never have to pay back the full fee anyway, this only really demonstrates that the fees are too high as it is, as a majority of graduates will be unable to pay off the debt. Corbyn’s promise doesn’t seem entirely reasonable or plausible by comparison, as the money a university degree undeniably costs needs to come from somewhere – not to invoke the dreaded ‘magic money tree’ symbolism that so plagues current political discussion. However, it will appeal to youth voters, especially considering the current trend in student populations toward socialism and subsidiary worldviews. When student loans were introduced by the Blair administration, the university was still essentially subsidising each student’s degree, which certainly doesn’t appeal to the free-market sensibilities of the Conservatives. In fact, the creation of a new free market was the aim of the Tories’ fee hike all along. They apparently envisioned a system wherein the elite universities would charge the full fee, and lesser institutions would demand less money. Even the most cursory research would have revealed that that would not be the case, and now, here we are.
‘cutting off a student’s writing hand would not aid the country’s economy.’
As the latest in a series of moves meant to attract youths to the party, this policy announcement represents not only the most shameless kind of triangulation — in keeping with her modus operandi of appropriating other parties’ ideas and slapping a blue sticker on them — but also a continuation of the party’s inability to connect with today’s young people (which teen or twenty-something reads the Telegraph?). As Ed Miliband pointed out in response to a recent Theresa May tweet, he felt as though he’d heard the idea of introducing ‘legislation to cap energy bills’ ‘somewhere before’. It’s not all that we’ve heard before, either. The Tories’ much-ridiculed ‘Activate’ scheme was a blatant rebranding of Labour’s Momentum campaign. That was announced with Corbyn’s slogan ‘For the many, not the few’ being twinned with Star Wars character Admiral Ackbar announcing ‘it’s a trap’ in Return of the Jedi; a popular internet meme some five or so years ago. In other words, the move ironically paired an outreach to youth voters with a woeful lack of know-how regarding youth voters.
The Conservatives’ primary weakness at present is this apparent inability, perhaps even unwillingness, to recognise that their ethos couldn’t entice a sensible youth. An economy in which one has no valuable stake and could only reasonably expect to lose out is not a system that one would ever wish to serve. A system that cripples me financially for getting an education is a despicable mockery of the capitalist market model. Harming a future worker financially is not going to produce a reliable workforce, in the same way that cutting off a student’s writing hand would not aid the country’s economy. Maintaining student fees at their current level is only going to contribute to the growing sense of distaste and distrust for the Tories among young people. Corbyn, no doubt, will be waiting in the wings to mop up the collateral.