Invited by the University of Birmingham Conservatives, controversial backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg visited campus on Friday 9th March, speaking about his views on free speech, housing, mental health, Russia and tuition fees to a packed lecture theatre of around 300 students.Written by Erin Santillo & John Wimperis on 16th March 2018
2017 Political Party Conferences: Are Students Still On The Agenda?
With conference season over, News’ Matt Bates analyses whether the main political parties' student policies have changed since the recent General Election
The Conservative Party Conference in Manchester sought to realign itself with young voters with a series of policy announcements surrounding tuition fees.
“Theresa May announced plans to cap undergraduate tuition fees at their current level of £9,250 and an increased threshold at which student loans begin to be repaid
Theresa May announced plans to cap undergraduate tuition fees at their current level of £9,250 and an increased threshold at which student loans begin to be repaid, raising it from £21,000 to £25,000 per year. Whilst this increase does not apply to postgraduate loans, the Conservative Party have stated that the increased threshold will save all graduates with a £9,000 per year undergraduate degree £30 a month and £360 a year.
The Prime Minister also spoke of a ‘major’ review of university funding and finance - but as of yet, there are no explicit details as to what this review will entail.
Minister for Health Jeremy Hunt also announced that 5,000 additional places per year are to be created on nursing training courses, with the pledge being described as the ‘biggest expansion’ of nursing training in the NHS’ history.
Policy aside, the penultimate day of the Tory Conference saw The Huffington Post release images of a confidential internal Conservative report, which called for the party to remove ‘risky student politics’ from the main party structure by bringing the party’s youth wing firmly into the mainstream party structure. The move, which will effectively make Conservative societies at universities unofficial, allows the party to control, discipline and work more closely with their youth wing. It will be considered by the Conservative Party Board later this month.
“If they were to be elected, Labour would abolish tuition fees and ‘deal with’ the burden of student debt
The Labour Party’s 2017 snap-election manifesto vowed, if they were to be elected, that they would abolish tuition fees and ‘deal with’ the burden of student debt.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell reaffirmed these policies, suggesting that their manifesto promises had ‘forced the Government into discussing reducing interest rates or raising repayment thresholds’. He argued that these policies would not go far enough, but if the Government were to pursue such policies the Labour Party would support them.
Then, Jeremy Corbyn stated, during his speech in Brighton, that the Labour Party were looking to address the ‘tide of automation’ by the re-training and management of the workforce.
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Raynor said that Labour would also seek to fund people through vocational qualifications, as part of a broad ‘cradle-to-grave’ National Education Service.
With Sir Vince Cable taking over as leader from Tim Farron, the Lib Dems’ most notable - potential - policy change in regards to students is the suggestion of a graduate tax. The proposed policy will go under the relevant processes of review and a more concrete version is expected to be discussed at a later conference.
“Lib Dems support reducing the voting age to 16 and introducing proportional representation
The party leader said: ‘We value the support of students, so we must get this issue right’.
The conference also reiterated the party’s policies of electoral reform, including reducing the voting age to 16 and introducing proportional representation.
Across the border, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon quipped at Theresa May’s pledge to freeze tuition fees at £9,250, saying ‘We will also freeze tuition fees - but we will freeze them at zero’.
“Sturgeon: 'We will also freeze tuition fees - but we will freeze them at zero'
Meanwhile, the SNP’s Mhairi Black criticised Welsh Labour’s announcement from July, that tuition fees would increase with inflation to £9,250 from autumn 2018. Welsh Labour Education Secretary Kirsty Williams said the rise was a result of England’s policy, yet was criticised for it being contrary to Labour’s snap-election manifesto promises of free tuition a month earlier.