Keir Starmer says he has scrapped the tuition fee promise to prioritize tackling the NHS crisis

Keir Starmer has said he has reneged on his pledge to abolish tuition fees to prioritize tackling NHS waiting lists.

The Labor leader said he still believes the university education system “must change”, but insisted the party cannot deliver on either promise given the state of the UK economy.

“Looking at the cost of tuition fees or abolishing them, looking at the money we have to put into the NHS, I have made the decision that we cannot do both. That is a difficult decision and I will accept that,” he told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme.

It comes after Labor peer Peter Mandelson told the Guardian that the next government should urgently increase funding for universities, with vice-chancellors warning that the cash crisis facing universities was very serious. To turn the situation around, they said increases of £2,000 to £3,500 a year for each student would be needed to stabilize the sector.

Labor has said it will cut graduate repayments, which would lead to different repayment rates depending on people’s salaries. Insiders said there was debate within Labor and the party would need to see what it inherited from the Conservatives before making a decision on tuition fees and child support increases for poorer students.

Starmer was heavily criticized by the left wing of the party for admitting he would not deliver on the tuition fee promise. The Labor leader said: “Since then (2020) there has been enormous damage to the economy and as we get closer to the election we have had to make difficult choices.”

Pressed on his promise to keep his promises, Starmer said: “Some people will say you go back on one (promise) but not the other, but we can’t have both and I’ve decided that our priority get rid of those waiting lists in the NHS, because we can’t get our economy going… without a healthy country with us.”

Lord Mandelson, a New Labor architect who introduced the tuition fee system in 1998, said: ‘Universities are under enormous financial pressure, both because their revenues lag far behind costs, and because some in government actually want fewer universities. and access to it.

“This cannot be turned around overnight by a new incoming government, but an emergency response will be needed to increase resources to save both university education and vital research.”

David Willetts, universities minister in 2012 when the cap on fees was raised to £9,000, said: “I’m sure all political parties will be tempted to avoid this, but the cost of inaction is constantly rising. . They are driven by students who have poorer quality experiences in higher education, and there will be an increasing risk of some universities going bankrupt.”

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Starmer also rejected claims that Labor would have to raise taxes, implement cuts or change budget rules if it wins the general election.

The Labor leader said he would scrap the two-child limit “in an ideal world” but reiterated that his party would not have the resources to do so “at this time”.

“Which I’m going to do, because child poverty is something I’m absolutely against. The last Labor government had an anti-child poverty strategy and we managed to do a huge amount of good on child poverty,” he said.