May’s fees revolution to win over students
900,000 graduates to gain £360 a year Review into fee cuts and return of grants £10bn help for first-time buyers
THERESA MAY today pledges to overhaul the tuition fees system and spend £10billion helping first-time buyers in an effort to win over young voters.
Speaking exclusively to The Sunday Telegraph on the eve of the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister attempts to reassert her authority by focusing on domestic policies.
She announces a freeze on tuition fees at £9,250 a year and a rise in the level of earnings at which student loans begin to be paid back, saving almost a million graduates £360 a year.
A review will also consider more radical changes, such as lowering fees altogether, slashing the interest rate on student debt and even bringing back maintenance grants.
On housing, the Government will attempt to get 135,000 more people on to the property ladder through a £10billion extension of the Help to Buy loan scheme.
The announcements are designed to appeal to younger voters who voted for Jeremy Corbyn at the last election. It is also an attempt by Mrs May to end months of leadership speculation and show her party she can reverse its fortunes after losing the Tory majority in June.
Against a backdrop of feuding Cabinet ministers and plotting Conservative rebels, Mrs May uses an interview with this newspaper to:
Face down internal critics demanding she step aside as leader before 2022, saying: “I will fight the next election”
Dismiss concerns about the loyalty of Boris Johnson by insisting his behaviour is little different from past frontbenchers
Apologise to Tory MPs who lost their seats, blaming the poor results on the failure to campaign on the change agenda she originally outlined
Pledge to win back the trust of Tory activists by showing that the Government can “get on with the job” of delivering Brexit.
Mrs May, who celebrates her 61st birthday today, hopes her domestic reform agenda will dominate the Conservatives’ annual conference, which begins today in Manchester.
However, leadership speculation looks set to loom large, with the Prime Minister’s authority under intense scrutiny as arguments in Cabinet about Brexit continue to rumble on.
Mr Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday went public with more Brexit red lines – revealed by this newspaper last week – and separately he was criticised by Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader. Both do well in leadership polls of Tory members.
In an attempt to end the speculation, Mrs May has made her most explicit pledge yet over leading the Tories into the 2022 election. “I will fight the next election,” she said when pushed on her ambitions. “I’m not a quitter, I’m in it for the long term and I believe there is a long-term job to do.”
The Prime Minister hinted at concerns that the splits are putting off the public. “What voters want to see are the results of government getting on
with the job of delivering for them,” she said.
Mrs May dismissed claims that Mr Johnson’s Brexit comments – not least the 4,200-word unauthorised article in The Daily Telegraph last month – amounted to a breakdown in Cabinet collective responsibility.
“I think probably if you look back in the records of newspapers you’ll see that Cabinet ministers giving different views is not something that only has happened in the last year and a half, that it’s actually happened before,” she said.
The Prime Minister also says “sorry” to Tory colleagues who lost their seats as a result of her decision to hold a snap election and vowed to rebuild trust with activists.
To get on the front foot, Mrs May has two announcements designed to show that her premiership will not only be
defined by Brexit. The first concerns tuition fees. The Tories have promised to freeze fees, meaning a planned rise with inflation from £9,250 to £9,500 will not go ahead.
They will also raise the level of earnings at which graduates start paying back their student debt from £21,000 to £25,000, saving £360 a year in repayments for almost a million graduates.
However, it will only benefit people
who left university after 2012, when the fees were raised close to the current levels.
There will also be a wider review of the system – and that could bring more radical changes. Cutting fees, slashing interest rates on debt and bringing back grants for poorer students are all being considered – but scrapping fees, capping the number of university places and introducing a new “graduate tax” will not go on the agenda.
Explaining the decision, Mrs May said she understood the concerns over mounting student debt and admitted that tuition fees had failed to bring the variety hoped.
“We’ve got a system which when the changes on finance and funding were introduced we all expected to see some diversity in the system – two-year degrees, differential fees, that sort of thing. That hasn’t happened,” she said.
Mrs May added: “Obviously I recog-
nise that there is a concern for people around the financing aspect of this, so we will look again at this area.”
The second announcement is on housing. An extra £10billion will be put into the Help to Buy “equity loan scheme”, under which the Government lends 20 per cent of the cost of a new home. It is thought 135,000 new buyers will benefit.
The drive will help the Tories hit their pledge to build a million new homes by 2020 and a further 500,000 by 2022. Currently just around 150,000 are built every year.
Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: “This government understands that for many people finding a deposit is still a very big hurdle.”
He added: “Making progress as a nation means supporting young people and families to achieve their dreams of home ownership.”
‘What voters want to see are the results of Government getting on with the job of delivering for them’
Theresa May spoke exclusively to The Sunday Telegraph on her domestic agenda, Brexit and plans for helping the young
Theresa May arrives in Manchester with her husband Philip ahead of the 2017 party conference