Labour targets young voters on final registration day by bringing forward pledge to end tuition fees

Labour has defended the party's £9.5bn election pledge to abolish tuition fees in England as "the right thing to do" as the party makes a last-ditch plea to students to register to vote.

The party said it would bring forward the measure to benefit students beginning university this autumn if it wins the election, as it stressed its manifesto policy on the final day of voter registration.

Critics have said the expensive pledge is not justified with a record number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education.

Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg - who faced heavy criticism for the Lib Dem's infamous U-turn on the same pledge in 2010 - said Labour's plan was "the wrong choice now".

But shadow education secretary Angela Rayner told ITV's Good Morning Britain the investment to remove the "arbitrary cap" on students was justified and would benefit the nation's workforce.

"We think it's the right thing to do," she said. "We said we'll start it from this year to not discourage students from deferring."

Ms Rayner said the number of state school children going to university had fallen from 71% in 2010 to 62% since the cost of studying rocketed under the Coalition and Conservative governments.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the Conservatives of having "held students back for too long" by helping to treble tuition fees to more than £9,000 a year.

He said his government would "lift this cloud of debt" by making it free for people to study at university in England.

Labour estimates it could benefit around 400,000 students from this autumn.

Jeremy Corbyn said his party wanted to lift the 'cloud of debt' on the young. Credit: PA

Former Lib Dem leader Mr Clegg attacked the move, saying: "I think it is wrong to now provide around £11 billion ... a huge amount of money, a lot of which that money will come from people who have never been lucky enough to go to university."

Labour estimates the annual cost of axeing fees will be £9.5bn while the party's manifesto calculates the combined cost with restoring maintenance grants at £11.2bn.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, Mr criticised Labour for "not reversing a lot of the very punitive and regressive benefit cuts, which will affect some of the poorest in society".

Labour has pledged £4 billion to reverse some cuts to the welfare system, as well as an extra £2 billion a year to offset the worst cuts to benefits as part of a review of Universal Credit, but has not explicitly committed to reversing a freeze on working age benefits.

Nick Clegg was forced to defend the Lib Dem's infamous U-turn on a promise to axe tuition fees in 2010. Credit: PA

The party says it would abolish tuition fees from 2018 and write-off the first year of fees for those planning to start university this September.

Those part way through their degree will pay no more fees for the remainder of the course.

Labour said it would look to provide free tuition for EU students and seek reciprocal arrangements at EU universities in Brexit talks.

A Conservative spokesman said: "There are now more students from disadvantaged backgrounds getting into university than ever before.

"But if Jeremy Corbyn is in charge of our Brexit negotiations, all of this will be under threat."

Prospective voters must apply to register to vote in the June 8 election by 11.59pm on Monday.

More than two million people have applied to register since Theresa May announced her call for a snap poll, according to Electoral Commission data.