Ed Miliband will claim today that the Coalition’s university funding system is unsustainable for students and taxpayers as he pledges to cut tuition fees from a maximum of £9,000 to £6,000 a year.
The Labour leader will argue that the trebling of fees in 2012 will saddle graduates with an average of £44,000 of debt, leaving the country owed a staggering £281bn from student loans by 2030. He will promise early legislation if he becomes prime minister in May to reduce the fees cap by £3,000.
Most of the estimated £2bn cost would be found by reducing tax relief on pension contributions. At present, people get relief on payments of up to £40,000 a year and £1.25m over their career. Labour will deny launching an “inter-generational war” between pensioners and young people, saying that only the wealthy can afford to put such huge amounts into a pension.
Labour’s move will be seen as a step towards a graduate tax, which would remain an option in the longer term. But the proposed fees cut will be strongly opposed by university vice-chancellors, who have warned of a looming funding crisis in higher education.
Mr Miliband will appeal for parents and grandparents to support Labour’s plan to stop today’s young people being the first generation in almost a century to be worse-off than their parents. “We can turn this around for your children and your grandchildren,” he will say. “None of us want to see our kids treated like this… a country where the next generation is doing worse than their parents is the definition of a country in decline.”
A Liberal Democrat source said: “The current system is working. There is a record rate of applications and a record number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university.”