Labour has defended the party’s £9.5bn election pledge to abolish tuition fees as “the right thing to do” as the party makes a last-ditch plea to students to register to vote.
The party confirmed the measure will benefit 2017 university entries and all existing students 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.
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.
The party says it would abolish 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.