Labour heavyweight fails to rule out higher Arts & Social Sciences fees

Chuka Umunna, the Shadow Business Secretary and MP for Streatham, has told Epigram that Labour has not ruled out charging higher tuition fees for Arts & Social Sciences students than their STEM counterparts.

In an exclusive interview with Epigram, Umunna said he would not ‘get into the detail of what we may or may not have been looking at’ when asked whether reports that Labour was planning to vary fees for students on different courses were true.

Umunna said he and his party wanted ‘to move to a more progressive system of funding’ but was reluctant to give any more information,

‘The challenge I’ve got is how to work out how to pay for a tuition fee drop, and who to help – whether to cut the fees or increase the maintenance loan.’

He added, however, that students could expect Labour to have fully decided on their fees policy ‘before the General Election, so that people can make an informed decision’.

Umunna had earlier made a compelling case for the importance of politics and voting in a question and answer session held on Thursday 5 February aimed at increasing student voter registration.

He told the students gathered in the Priory Road Lecture Theatre that, ‘frankly if you don’t vote for the Labour party, but you voted for somebody else, I’d much rather you turned up and voted rather than not voting at all.’

Referring to campaigns and protests led by Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Umunna also argued that voting was ‘empowering’, and that he still believed politics was the best way to enact change:

‘I do believe that politics is a force for good – it can affect a huge amount of positive change.’

The 36-year-old also faced a series of policy-based questions from the floor.

During the session, he claimed that he disliked the British system as it encouraged parties to ‘oppose for the sake of opposing’, especially in settings like Prime Minister’s Questions – which he described as a ‘load of rubbish.’

Umunna was also scathing about the Green Party, suggesting that he was ‘not sure they are very competent, but people will make their minds up.’ Asked about the feasibility of a coalition with the SNP, he simply said that Labour was ‘working towards a majority government’, and would not ‘be held to ransom by anyone.’

Asked about tuition fees, Umunna emphasised, ‘I don’t like the current system’, predominantly due to the amount of debt young people leave university with, but also because ‘it is not sustainable.’

A number of other MPs, including Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, have also visited the University this week, with students who haven’t already done so strongly encouraged to register to vote by Monday 20 April.

Umunna also criticised the government on the issue, saying it ‘didn’t look enough into why certain groups are not registered. You look at young people and ethnic minorities – disproportionately low levels of registration’.

This piece was written in conjunction with Zaki Dogliani and was originally published in Epigram.

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