Labour has a solid lead on protecting the interests of university students – but they are tied with the Conservatives when it comes to protecting universities themselves
Ed Miliband will set out plans to lower university tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 today, filling the funding gap left for universities by reducing tax relief on pensions for wealthy earners. Overnight Labour said the rising level of student debt – on average £44,000, under the system introduced by the current coalition government – had been a “disaster”, which would add as much as £281bn to the national debt by 2030 because many students would not be able to pay off their loans.
Universities attacked the plan. The National Union of Students welcomed it. In new YouGov research, there is a similar disconnect – British people think Labour are the party of students, but they are divided on who would be on the side of universities.
Labour, on 30%, has a 17 point lead over the Conservatives, on 13%, with regards to who would do most to protect the interests of university students. Among 18-24 year-olds, Labour leads by 15 (28% to the Liberal Democrats' 13%). But on universities themselves, Labour's lead shrinks to 1 (24% to the Tories’ 23%) among the general public and 8 among young people (22% to the Tories' 14%).
|Labour has the edge on student interests|
|Which party do you think would do the most to protect the interests of… %|
The Lib Dems, who received their highest support from young people in the 2010 election, are only chosen by 10% with reference to university students, after reneging on their promise not to raise tuition fees.
The Green party, who have surged in popularity among young people in recent months and are thought to have a strong support base among students, are only chosen by 6% as being most able to protect university students.
Labour has a much larger lead of 30 (42% to the Conservatives’ 12%) on doing the most to serve school teachers, and a smaller lead of 10 on protecting school children (30% to the Conservatives’ 20%).
Despite an advantage on protecting the interests of several groups involved in education, Labour's average lead over the Tories on education so far this year has been only 3 points, down from 4 in 2014 and down from around 6 between 2011 and 2013.
Advocates of lower tuition fees argue that higher education is a public good, which shouldn't involve additional charges for students. In previous polling, however, YouGov has found that British people are divided over whether the cost of university education should mainly be paid for through general taxation (43%) or by students themselves (42%).