May launches review of high UK university fees, promising fairer deal

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2018
0

May launches review of high UK university fees, promising fairer deal

LONDON: Britain could reduce the burden of university fees on students and bring back grants for their living expenses, Prime Minister Theresa May will say on Monday, under pressure to lure younger voters a year after they cost her parliamentary majority.
May’s predecessor David Cameron, a fellow Conservative, tripled the cost of tuition for students from England and Wales to 9,000 pounds a year ($12,640), many times higher than the fees other EU countries charge their citizens. In 2016, the government also phased out all grants to help poorer students with living costs, replacing them with loans.
The opposition Labour Party says it wants to eliminate student fees and restore grants.
May’s Conservatives, or Tories, have long defended their approach, arguing that requiring students to pay helps fund more places so more people can study, and puts more of the burden of the cost of higher education on those who benefit most from it.
Students do not have to make payments on their loans unless they earn above a minimum threshold, although they continue to accrue interest. Unpaid balances are wiped out after 30 years.
But the system is extremely unpopular with younger voters, angry about being the first British generation to start their careers carrying tens of thousands of pounds of debt. Young people voted heavily against the Conservatives in an election last year that surprisingly erased May’s majority, forcing her to form a minority government.
May will acknowledge that Britain now has “one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world,” and pledge to make it fairer, according to excerpts from her speech released in advance by her office.
“All but a handful of universities charge the maximum possible fees for undergraduate courses. Three-year courses remain the norm. And the level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the course,” she will say.
The review “will examine how we can give people from disadvantaged backgrounds an equal chance to succeed,” including looking at grants for poor students, her office said.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said on Sunday that students could be charged variable tuition rates depending on the economic value of degrees in the subjects they study.
“What we need to look at is the different aspects of pricing, so the cost to put on the course, the value it is to the student and also the value to our society as a whole and to our economy for the future,” he told BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
The opposition said such a system would only serve to lock poor students out of the best-paid professions.
“Charging more for the courses that help graduates earn the most would put off students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds from getting those same qualifications,” Labour education spokeswoman Angela Rayner said on Twitter.
“So much for the PM’s talk about social mobility. The Tories really haven’t grasped the reality of social mobility.”
Earlier on Sunday, a parliamentary committee said the government should cut the interest rate it charges on student loans, which are pegged at 3 percentage points above retail price inflation. The current rate of 6.1 percent is higher than most banks charge for mortgages or unsecured personal loans.
The British parliament’s Treasury Committee said the use of RPI as a benchmark was unfair, and the 3 percentage point premium introduced in 2012 was hard to justify.
“The government must reconsider the use of high interest rates on student loans,” said Nicky Morgan, Conservative chair of the cross-party committee. ($1 = 0.7120 pounds)


India’s BJP trails in vote count of three state polls, in setback for Modi

In this photo taken on November 27, 2018 Indian polling officials prepare election materials and electronic voting machines at a distribution centre in Bhopal. (AFP)
Updated 18 min 9 sec ago
0

India’s BJP trails in vote count of three state polls, in setback for Modi

  • The Times Now channel said the BJP was trailing in all three states, where it had grabbed almost all the parliamentary seats in its landslide win in the last general election in 2014

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was trailing on Tuesday in three big heartland states, two TV networks said, as counting began from local elections seen as a final trial of strength for Prime Minister Narendra Modi before general elections next year.
Analysts say a big loss for the BJP would signal rural dismay and help unite opposition to Modi, though his personal popularity remains high, despite criticism that he was unable to deliver on promises to create jobs for young people and improve conditions for farmers.
The elections are also a test for Rahul Gandhi, the chief of the main opposition Congress party, who is trying to forge a broad alliance with regional groups to mount the most serious challenge to Modi yet in the election that must be held by May.
In the western state of Rajasthan, the Congress was leading in 81 seats of the 199-member assembly against the BJP’s 56 in the initial round of voting, India Today TV said.
In the central state of Chhattisgarh, the Congress was ahead in 46 of the 90 seats at stake with the BJP at 22 and was holding to a slender lead in the most populous state at stake, Madhya Pradesh, the network said.
The Times Now channel also said the BJP was trailing in all three states, where it had grabbed almost all the parliamentary seats in its landslide win in the last general election in 2014.
Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters.
Local issues usually dominate state polls, but politicians are seeing the elections as a pointer to the national vote just months away.
The Indian rupee dropped as much as 1.5 percent to 72.465 per dollar, while bond yields rose 12 basis points to 7.71 percent after the resignation of the central bank governor.
The broader NSE share index was down 1.3 percent with investors cautious ahead of the state election results.
Equity analysts had warned that Monday’s surprise resignation of Urjit Patel, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, after a long tiff with the government, could send the markets crashing.
“As the three erstwhile BJP states have a large agrarian population, the BJP’s drubbing could be interpreted to mean that farm unrest is real,” Nomura said in a research note.
“A rout of the BJP on its homeground states should encourage cohesion among the opposition parties to strengthen the non-BJP coalition for the general elections.”
Regional parties are likely to retain two smaller states that also report results on Tuesday, southern Telangana and northeastern Mizoram, the polls show.
Gandhi, the fourth generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, has sought to build a coalition of regional groups, some headed by experienced firebrand, ambitious politicians.
Congress has already said it would not name Gandhi, who is seen as lacking experience, as a prime ministerial candidate.
“When one and one become eleven, even the mighty can be dethroned,” opposition leader Akhilesh Yadav said of the prospect of growing opposition unity.