Prime Minister Theresa May is facing scrutiny after failing to address a tuition fee questions during a speech on the campaign trail

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Speaking in her constituency at a GSK factory, an employee questioned the Prime Minister on the Conservatives’ higher education policies.

The woman asked May: ‘Over recent years there has been a rapid increase in student tuition fees. With student loan interest rates set to increase by a third, university is becoming less accessible. What are your plans to ensure university is affordable for all?’

'it’s so important not to just think that university is the right route for everybody'

The PM responded by saying: ‘When the tuition fees came in, a lot of people said that what they thought might happen was actually young people from less advantaged families might be less likely to go to university.’

She added: ‘In fact, that’s not the case – the reverse has happened. So I think we have seen [people] crucially still being able to take those university opportunities.’

May then moved on to discuss other career routes for young people, such as apprenticeships, adding: ‘it’s so important not to just think that university is the right route for everybody or that it is the only route. I think what’s being done in apprenticeships […] will give a wider variety of routes for young people.’

This response had led to many accusing the PM of glossing over the issue and ignoring student worries about tuition fees. Many took to social media to express their criticism. On Twitter, one person wrote: ‘PM asked about tuition fees. Replies by saying people should go to university or do an apprenticeship…someone didn’t answer the question.’

This year, higher education faced many changes, including maintenance grants being scrapped. The grant, which was given to the poorest students, has now been replaced with a loan. Tuition fees have also been raised to £9,250 next academic year.

These two factors combined means that the poorer students are more likely to leave university with much more debt than those from richer backgrounds. Education experts have expressed fears that increased debt will deter people from disadvantaged backgrounds from applying to university in future years.

UCAS have recently released data for the full-time undergraduate applications for the 2017 cycle. By the January deadline, 564,190 people had applied to UK higher education courses, a decline of 5% compared to this time last year. Meanwhile, EU applications to study in the UK have also decreased by 7%.

Despite this decrease, applications among 18-year-old students has remained high. In England, there has been an increase of 37%. In Northern Ireland and Wales, application figures for 18 year olds has fallen slightly, with Scotland remaining the same. However, it is not possible yet to link these UCAS fugues to the changes made to higher education fees and loans.

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