Sheffield is a student city so Labour’s pledge to scrap tuition fees is an important one. Ellie Colton reports.
Speaking at a manifesto conference on November 21st, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed the audience by saying “if you’re a student labour is on your side”.
He explained “we will create a national education service…bring back maintenance grants…and let’s be clear, we will scrap university tuition fees”.
Tuition fees in Sheffield have been a huge issue since 2010, the year that Liberal Democrat Leader and Sheffield MP Nick Clegg, made them a critical part of his manifesto. Nick Clegg vowed that if the Liberal Democrats got into government in the 2010 election, his party would scrap tuition fees across the UK.
In 2012 he finally apologised for “making a promise we were not absolutely sure we could deliver”.
Now, in 2019, Labour has vowed to make sure tuition fees are abolished for students across the UK.
John Healey, Labour candidate for Wentworth and Dearne, previously Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Minister for Housing and Planning, Minister for Local Government and Financial Secretary to the Treasury, believes it goes further than just tuition fees.
He said: “Well beyond the commitment to abolishing student tuition fees – Labour places such a high priority on learning, from free pre-school education and childcare for two to four-year-olds to setting up a new National Education Service, to give people in work the opportunity to upgrade their skills and change careers.”
Mr Healey suggested that the fees put young people off applying to university, and this shouldn’t be the case. “I know that tuition fees and maintenance loans deter the ambition of university.
“We should not saddle young people such big debts as they begin their working lives.”
TV’s Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis has long battled with the idea that university ‘debt’ should deter people. He challenged Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, that parties should stop using university fees as a “political football”.
Speaking on BBC Question Time earlier this year, he said: “Politicians need to take responsibility, all the parties have miss-educated a generation about how university finance works, and it is an abomination you should all hang your heads in shame.
“There are people from poor backgrounds on television saying‘ I can’t afford to go to university’. It is expensive, it is an increased form of taxation when you leave, but it is not a debt it should not be called a debt.”
Gordon Gregory, Conservative candidate for Sheffield Heeley, said that his party would not be abolishing tuition fees but are pledging to cut them.
“We want to cut tuition fees from the current fee of £9,250 to £7,500 and further look at interest rates on repayments for student loans”.
Mr Gregory did not wish to comment further. There are no more pledges stated in the Conservative party manifesto concerning university tuition fees. The issue over ‘affording’ university is still ever present, however.
Abigail Hamlet, a 21-year-old from Sheffield, has been working in New Look in the city centre for the past four years, and says she chose not to go to university “over the fear of debt.”
“I went to Meadowhead Secondary School, got my GCSEs and three good A Levels, I’d always wanted to work with medicine and work as a nurse.
“The problem is I live in a very small house in Jordanthorpe in Sheffield and I grew up with hardly anything, and university, I feel anyway, has always been advertised towards middle-class people whose relatives all went. When none of mine have.”
The ‘widening participation’ bursary schemes created by the government, aim to encourage pupils whose parents did not attend university, to go themselves.
Abigail explained a bursary would not be enough. “I looked around unis but decided not to go, because I need to work three days a week to support my family, and doing that as well as working as a nurse and being on placement is too much. Even if I had a bursary.
“Not to mention the fact nurses do not get a grant anymore, and you have to pay over £9,000 in tuition fees whilst getting a small maintenance loan that you have to pay back.
“It just wasn’t do-able for me. When you already have financial worries at 18 years old I just felt university would have made it worse. So, I now work in New Look full time.”
For young people like Abigail, the prospect of no tuition fees could encourage her in the future “If I didn’t have the overwhelming feeling of debt looming over my head, I’d be more likely to try”.
With the winner of the general election announced in just a few hours, students will be eager to see if the party in power keeps their promise.