UK Politics

Tuition fees: Labour pledges maximum cap of £6,000

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Media captionMarr interviews Ed Miliband on tuition fees cap

The maximum university fee for students in England would be cut by a third under Labour, Ed Miliband has said.

If the party was in power now it would reduce the cap from £9,000 to £6,000 to ease the debt burden on students, the Labour leader told Andrew Marr.

It would be partly funded by higher interest on student loans for graduates earning more than £65,000 a year.

Mr Miliband - who voted against tuition fee increases last year - denied Tory claims the move amounted to a U-turn.

As Labour gathers in Liverpool for its annual conference, he said: "I don't think it is a reversal of policy, I think it is implementing a policy - we voted against the £9,000 tuition fee."

But shadow business secretary John Denham told BBC News that a graduate tax still remains the party's long-term aspiration.

'Fast-buck economy'

Mr Miliband said Labour would fund the reduced cap on tuition fees by scrapping the government's planned cut in corporation tax for financial services and increasing the interest rate on the loans of the highest-earning graduates.

BBC chief political correspondent Norman Smith said Labour hoped the announcement on tuition fees would generate a distinctive headline which would catch the public's attention.

Labour's intention was to ease the pressure on the squeezed middle, and also generate the idea of the British promise, the thinking being the next generation of youngsters should do better than their parents - but there were still a lot of questions around the policy, our correspondent added.

And he said another aspect of Labour's plans was their potential appeal to Liberal Democrat supporters, after their party abandoned plans to oppose any rise to tuition fees.

However, Mr Miliband refused to guarantee that the tuition fee cap would be in Labour's manifesto for the next general election in 2015.

"It's something we would do now. It's something we are committed to - but the manifesto is three and half years away," he told Andrew Marr.

But he added: "If we can do more at the time of the election, we will. But this is an important first step".

He said the policy was part of his plan to "change the way our country works" and end the "short-term, fast-buck economy" - a theme he said would dominate his set-piece speech to conference on Tuesday.

"I think we have got to put an end to the fast-buck era. I don't think the priority for Britain is to cut taxes for financial services - and it's a big choice and it's a big difference between ourselves and the government," said the Labour leader.

Mr Miliband said he wanted to use the party's week in Liverpool to set out an alternative to the "pessimism and austerity" which he claimed was being peddled by the coalition.

But Universities Minister David Willetts said Mr Miliband's call for a tuition fee cap made Labour's vote against fee increases last year look "completely cynical".

He said he had written to shadow business secretary John Denham to ask how the tuition fees proposal would be financed and whether the reduction would lead to lower monthly repayments for students.

In his letter, Mr Willetts said: "Ed Miliband has now accepted that tuition fees should be doubled to £6,000 a year.

"He has consistently supported a graduate tax and Labour MPs were whipped to vote against higher fees at the end of last year. This monumental U-turn is evidence of weak leadership.

"Students, parents and employers need a well-funded and world-class university sector. They will be dismayed when they see the implications of what you propose."

The president of the National Union of Students, Liam Burns, said Mr Miliband was "sorely wrong" if he believed students will back such a position at the next general election.

"If they think this is going to be a manifesto policy, then I'm sorry - this isn't going to win support of students," he said.

"Going into the context of a Parliament where the majority of people promised not to increase fees at all, to simply go back to a position of 'well, we're only doubling it,' well that's not quite good enough."

'Fantasy world'

But Mr Burns said if Mr Miliband's announcement referred to what should be done immediately, he would agree with him "wholeheartedly".

Shadow business secretary John Denham said tuition fees "don't have to be as high next year, if only the government listened to us".

He also said that Labour's long-term aspiration was to introduce a graduate tax. "That is the direction we've said we always wanted to move in. A fairer system of payment for the degrees, for the contribution we ask graduates to make. This is something that can be done today."

He also said the plans were "fully costed".

Liberal Democrat MP Gordon Birtwhistle said Labour's plan to axe the planned cut in corporate tax showed they were "living in a complete economic fantasy world", as the companies that would be affected were potential employers of students.

"If you start increasing the corporation tax on companies, then it'll be cheaper to go to university, but there won't be any jobs to go into when they leave," he said.

Tuition fees were introduced by the last Labour government.

The current £9,000 maximum was introduced by the coalition government.

The Liberal Democrats have been accused by students of breaking pre-election promises not to raise tuition fees.

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