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Miliband warns on university places

Tens of thousands of university places could be cut as the Government tries to make up a funding gap in its tuition fees policy, Labour leader Ed Miliband has claimed.

He warned that the coalition's controversial higher education funding reforms were "unravelling" as more universities than expected planned to charge £9,000 a year.

Soaring fees meant that the new system may cost the taxpayer an extra £450 million a year in student loans - putting 36,000 university places at risk, Mr Miliband said.

"This unfair and shambolic tuition fees policy is now unravelling," he said.

"It will cost taxpayers more, it will cost students more and it may cost thousands of young people their university places."

Analysis by Labour showed that 70% of universities which have so far declared their fees under the new regime were planning to charge the maximum £9,000.

That included all of the elite Russell Group universities that have announced their plans - 13 out of 17.

Drawing on House of Commons Library figures, Labour said average fees of £8,500 could create a funding shortfall of up to £450 million in 2014/15.

At a press conference at Labour's Victoria Street headquarters, Mr Miliband accused Prime Minister David Cameron of breaking a promise that £9,000 fees would be an exception. And he said that the Government's "incompetence" had blown a hole in their claimed savings from the policy of higher fees.

Mr Miliband denied that Labour paved the way for £9,000 tuition fees when Tony Blair's government introduced £3,000 top-up fees in 2004. He said: "That was for one purpose and one purpose only - to expand university numbers," adding that there was "a fundamental difference between that decision and the decision this Government has made".

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