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

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front page - By Ben Ri­ley-Smith AS­SIS­TANT PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

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

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