Sir Keir Starmer has said he would not have been able to afford university were he applying today, despite recently dropping his pledge to scrap tuition fees under a Labour government.
He said the "current scheme is unfair and ineffective and that is why we will change it" but he would not commit to reducing the yearly fee of £9,250 because of the "huge damage to the economy" he says has been caused by the Conservative government.
The Labour leader, who studied law at Leeds University before postgraduate studies at Oxford, said students are being forced to decide on their future because of financial issues.
Speaking to students in Worthing - who told him they worry "every night" about the financial implications of attending university - he said: "If i was in your shoes now I'm not sure I'd be able to go."
Sir Keir said potential students felt “completely trapped and choked by what this government is doing to them through their failure on the economy”.
He said there was a “mismatch” between the government “pretending that everything’s fine” and the “lived experience of people today, business people who are absolutely struggling, students who are having to work before they go to university because they can’t afford it. Single parents who told me that they worry every night about whether they can make ends meet”.
“So I don’t think the government is in a position to pretend that they’re handling the economy well, when the lived experience across the country is so very different to their rhetoric," he added.
Sir Keir promised to abolish tuition fees when he was running to replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2020 but three years later that promise is dead in the water.
'I wouldn't have been able to go to university', says Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer
In May, Sir Keir signalled Labour would drop the pledge. He said: “We are likely to move on from that commitment because we do find ourselves in a different financial situation.”
And on Tuesday, the north London MP accepted that "some of the things that an incoming Labour government would want to do, we are not going to be able to do in the way we would want" because of the state of public finances.
“But it doesn’t mean we are going to leave the current system as it is, because we want a fairer deal for students, a more effective deal for students and for universities.”
He said back in May that he'd "set out a fairer solution" for prospective students in the coming weeks, but he still has not explained what that will be.
In comments reported in the Daily Telegraph, Sir Keir reflected on his own financial situation before he went to university.
“There wasn’t any spare money knocking around to fund me going to Leeds," he said.
“I worked before I went and then got by on grants, as many young people do. I vividly remember carefully calculating rent, bills and food.
“Going to Leeds to study was a turning point for me. It will be a deep betrayal if one of the legacies of this Tory government is university, apprenticeships and skills becoming the preserve of the wealthy.”
He added: “I vividly remember the excitement of moving to Leeds to study law. It was a financial stretch then. If I were a student today, I wouldn’t be able to go.”
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