By Sophie Gregory
Theresa May’s most senior minister has hinted the Conservative government may reconsider its stance on university tuition fees.
Damian Green, speaking to the think tank Bright Blue, called for a “national conversation” about the fees, which are currently capped at £9,250.
The First Secretary of State – and de facto Deputy Prime Minister – acknowledged that tuition fees are a “huge issue” but went on to say that fees kept the standard of tuition high.
The comments come after an election campaign that saw the Conservative majority slashed, with the party’s failure to sufficiently engage and appeal to young voters considered a primary reason for the result.
It has been suggested that Labour’s manifesto pledge to eradicate the fees is one of the reasons for the upsurge in the youth vote that weakened the Tories.
Mr Green said: “I think in the long term we’ve got to show that [students] are getting value for money.
“If we want to have 40 percent-plus of people going to university and if we want those university courses actually to be valuable, which I think is where the strain is often taken in European universities – you actually look at the teaching that you get in some European universities, you have lecture halls with 600 people in and things like that – it’s not actually as good a teaching and learning experience as you get in this country.
“If you wanted to say you want to reduce [fees] then either fewer people go to university or the experience would be less.”
He went on to say that in order to abolish tuition fees, the money to fund university degrees would come out of taxation.
Meanwhile, in response to questions on this issue, the former Education Secretary Michael Gove told Andrew Marr that using taxes to fund university educations would be unjust for those who do not attend.
He said: “I believe fundamentally that the purpose of government policy is to support everyone equally, and if you don’t benefit from a university education, you shouldn’t have to pay additionally to support those who do.”
He also claimed that as graduates go on to earn money as a result of having higher education, they have a responsibility to “pay something back”.
Ministers have also considered other policy changes in order to make the “hard change” that Green suggests may draw young people to the Conservatives again.
Photograph: Creative Commons