There was a row this week in the UK over Labour’s plan for the university system. Individual Labour politicians have in the past talked about doing something about student debt, but this week Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn distanced himself from outright debt relief:
What I said was we would deal with it by trying to reduce the burden of it, we never said we would completely abolish because we were unaware of the size of it at that time.
Some in the British press are trying to portray this as a U-turn, but the Labour manifesto did not itself make any firm pledges on debt relief. It promised to eliminate tuition fees, but the debt issue was left to one side:
The average student now graduates from university, and starts their working life, with debts of £44,000. Labour will reintroduce maintenance grants for university students, and we will abolish university tuition fees.
Corbyn indicated this prior to the election–Labour was still trying to figure out the debt issue:
Yes, there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden. I don’t have the simple answer for it yet – I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly; we had two weeks to prepare all this – but I’m very well aware of that problem. And I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively compared to those that went before or those that come after. I will deal with it.
So instead of playing he-said he-said, let’s take a look at what Labour could do about student debt and see if we can help Corbyn figure it out.