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What do the Labour leadership candidates think of higher education?

  • 16 February 2020

The 2019 election result signalled a significant change in British politics. It brought about the end of the period of minority government, with the Conservatives winning the largest majority of any party since the early 2000s. The day the election result was announced, Jeremy Corbyn stated he would be standing down, triggering a Labour leadership contest. While Labour now hold only 202 seats in the House of Commons, the party will seek to influence higher education policy through their role as an opposition party. In order to better understand what positions Labour may take, this blog sets out the record of each of the leadership candidates on higher education. 

Rebecca Long-Bailey

Constituency: Salford and Eccles. 

Studied: Politics and Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University. 

Long-Bailey appears to be committed to Corbyn’s position on removing tuition fees, saying ‘We didn’t lose because of our commitment to scrap universal credit, invest in public services or abolish tuition fees.’ Long-Bailey became an MP in 2015 and therefore did not have a chance to vote on the 2012 fee change. 

Lisa Nandy

Constituency: Wigan. 

Studied: Politics at Newcastle University and Public Policy at Birkbeck

Nandy’s leadership bid has been focused on the role of towns, which is not a new topic to Nandy, who runs the thinktank ‘Centre for Towns’. She has spoken out about the importance of the civic role of universities, saying of the towns agenda ‘universities are absolutely crucial to all of this.’ When asked by Andrew Neil whether she would support scrapping tuition fees, she said she would but ‘in the language of priorities, where I would start is restoring the education maintenance allowance and university grants’. In 2010, Nandy voted against raising tuition fees to £9,000. 

Keir Starmer

Constituency: Holborn and St Pancras.

Studied: Law at University of Leeds and Bachelor of Civil Law at University of Oxford

Starmer has highlighted that he was first in family to go to university, in response to assumptions about having a privileged background. In his role as Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union he has visited universities to discuss the impact of Brexit on research. Starmer became an MP in 2015 and therefore did not have a chance to vote on the 2012 fee change. However he has committed as part of his campaign to ‘support the abolition of tuition fees’.

Emily Thornberry *Update – Emily Thornberry pulled out of the leadership race on Saturday 15th February.*

Constituency: Islington South and Finsbury.

Studied: Law at University of Kent

Thornberry has said she will maintain the commitment to removing tuition fees, saying at her launch event that ‘we need to make sure the population is as well educated as they can be, and we cannot ever stop people being educated because they’re afraid of falling into debt.’ She said her role as shadow foreign secretary helped her to understand the importance of international students studying in the UK, saying ‘I’ve met people who in their most formative years spend their time in Britain at university and fell in love with us, and actually it does a heck of a lot of good when they go home and they continue to have that strong link with Britain.’ She also spoke positively about the Erasmus programme. She voted against raising the tuition fees to £9,000 in 2010. 

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