Last Friday Ed Miliband the leader of the Labour Party made his long-awaited announcement in Leeds: the lowering of tuition fees to £6,000. But what does this actually mean?  Mr Miliband pledged that from the summer of 2016 both future and current students will only have to pay tuition fees at this lower rate. Sounds great doesn’t it? As he himself put it this was a start to rectifying ‘one of the most expensive broken promises in the history of British politics’. The broken promise he is talking about is the now infamous Nick Clegg promise to not raise tuition fees in 2010, a promise which saw him at the time being considered the hero of the students until his later betrayal.

Regardless of whether you agree if lower tuition fees are a good idea or not there is still the question of whether it matters. Firstly under the current system you only start paying back on your tuition fee loan once you earn over £21,000 a year, secondly if you haven’t paid it back after 30 years any remaining debt is wiped off. This raises the question then if the vast majority will never have to pay back their loan, does it matter whether the loan is £6,000 or £9,000?

For the Labour Party and Miliband they surely know that saving a possible £3,000 a year that students might not even have to pay back is unlikely to sway their votes. However there is a larger goal which Labour seem sure to succeed in, taking the role of the ‘party for students’ from the Lib Dems. With at least 20 marginal constituencies to be decided by the student vote now more than at any stage in the past, they need to retain the student vote. This is made all the more precipitant due to the rise of the Green Party, meaning now the student vote is no longer theirs automatically. While the lowering of tuition fees will not be enough to demonstrate to students that they should vote Labour over Greens, Tories etc., it does work as an effective flag bearer for their targeted student policies, grabbing headlines. For Labour therefore it is a crucial step for them in their attempts to position themselves as the party for students.

However as big as the electoral impact a fall in tuition fees may be for Labour, it is far more important for students themselves. At the last election only44 per cent of those aged 18-24 voted, and it would be impressive if with the changes to voter registration this level of turnout at least managed to be retained. It has resulted in students being an ignored demographic for political parties as they focus on demographics such as the over 65s with over 74 per cent of this group saying they are certain to vote. This is why the lowering of tuition fees is so important, it is an attempt to try to get students to re-engage in politics. For students it is a demonstration that they are being heard again, that issues such as tuition fees, letting agencies, and the environment, now being focused on by Labour, matter – with the other parties likely to be forced to follow suit.

For participation of students now and in the future it is crucial that Labour hold on and keep discussing youth issues and that the other parties do so as well. It would not be hyperbolic to suggest that this general election will be a defining one for the young generations going forward. The broken promises in 2010 on tuition fees resulted in increasing the sense of betrayal felt by students and subsequent apathy. Now is the opportunity to begin the process of fixing this apathy, through both discussion of youth issues, and fulfilment of promises.

While tuition fees are therefore not in reality going to make much of a difference to the majority of students, and definitely not as much of an impact as increasing the student grant loans up to £3,800. It is rather, the symbolic impact of the lowering of tuition fees that will make the difference, demonstrating a willingness to prioritise youth issues and being a constant reminder of the Liberal Democrats’ broken promise. Perhaps the most obvious example that tuition fees reduction is part of a strategy to prioritise students and increase their participation, is by looking at how it will be paid for. In his speech Miliband said it would be paid for by reducing the tax relief on pensions for those earning £150,000 a year. This demonstrates a complete refocus in strategy from targeting the over 65 voters to targeting the younger generations.

Whether the strategy will work is unknown, what is now clear is that if the reduction in tuition fees does tempt students to Labour as Miliband hopes, the reprioritization will benefit Labour in the future. Even if the strategy fails, at least for once students are not going to be a neglected demographic over the next few months.

 

Sources:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-31640592

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/04/02/general-elections-2015-students_n_5074883.html