University tuition fees should be scrapped entirely, says the Labour politician who helped to introduce them.
Students are being left with “Frankenstein’s monster” debts as a result of “opportunism and greed” on the behalf of university bosses, who receive salaries of up to £400,000-a-year, Lord Adonis has said.
Three-quarters of graduates paying up to £9,250-a-year will never clear their debt, while most will still be paying off their loans into their 50s.
But the Government claims the current system, introduced by the coalition in 2012, is fair and that scrapping fees would be “mind-bogglingly expensive”.
Lord Adonis, who was largely behind the Labour’s introduction of fees of between £1,000 and £3,000, said they had become “politically diseased and should be abolished entirely”.
Writing in The Guardian, he asked: “How did we get from the idea of a reasonable contribution to the cost of university tuition – the principle of the Blair reform of 2004, for which I was largely responsible – to today’s Frankenstein’s monster of £50,000-plus debts for graduates on modest salaries?
“And why did we give university vice chancellors a licence to print money?”
Lord Adonis has asked the competition and markets watchdog to investigate and break up what he called a “fees cartel” of university chiefs who have exploited the £9,250 ceiling.
He said: “The greed of the vice-chancellors sealed their fate.
“They increased their own pay and perks as fast as they increased tuition fees, and are now ‘earning’ salaries of £275,000 on average and in some cases over £400,000.”
He also criticised the Government’s “egregious” recent decision to raise interest rates on student loans taken out since 2012 to 6.1%, citing a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) that suggested many would never pay them off.
The report, released on Wednesday, said: “The combination of high fees and large maintenance loans contributes to English graduates having the highest student debts in the developed world.”
The IFS also said the interest rates were “very high” at up to 3% above inflation.
A surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn among young voters in the General Election has been attributed in large part to Labour’s pledge to scrap tuition fees.
Meanwhile Damian Green, Theresa May’s most senior minister, has suggested that Britain may need to have a national debate on the issue.
His comments led to speculation that the Government was preparing to abolish the current higher education funding system, although the suggestion was dismissed as “misguided” by universities minister Jo Johnson.
Mr Johnson said: “Abolishing fees would be mind-bogglingly expensive, requiring over £100 billion of additional spending between now and 2025.