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Miliband lashes out at Cameron over tuition fee hike

David Cameron and Ed Miliband traded blows over tuition fee hikes today as the crunch vote on the controversial policy loomed.

Amid speculation that half of Liberal Democrat MPs could rebel tomorrow, the Labour leader insisted the coalition was "in chaos".

He also accused the Prime Minister of being "out of touch with ordinary people" - highlighting his privileged education at Eton and Oxford.

But Mr Cameron hit back at Labour's "rank hypocrisy" on university funding, stressing that the Government's proposals meant the poorest would pay the least.

The clashes came on the eve of a tense Commons showdown on reforms that have sparked high passions among politicians and demonstrations by students.

Further concessions were brought forward this morning in a bid to win over doubters, after Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg announced last night that all his ministers would vote in favour of the fee increases.

However, many Lib Dem backbenchers are still determined to oppose the plans rather than merely abstain as permitted under the coalition agreement.

Several Tory MPs, including former shadow home secretary David Davis, are also likely to vote against, although the size of the Government's majority means the measures should still make it through.

Mr Miliband used the set-piece of Prime Minister's Questions to challenge Mr Cameron on why he was forcing English students to pay "the highest fees of any public university system in the industrialised world".

But flanked at the despatch box by Mr Clegg and Business Secretary Vince Cable, the premier insisted: "In the end we have to make a choice here. If we want to see university education expand, if we want to see universities well funded, we have to work out where that money is going to come from.

"Our proposal is that graduates should make a greater contribution, but only if they are successful.

"They will only start paying back when they are earning £21,000. That is better than the system we inherited."

Mr Cameron told Mr Miliband that his favoured option of a graduate tax would result in people on £6,000 paying back the cost of their university education.

He pointed out that the former Labour government had set up the Browne review, but the party was now distancing itself from the findings.

"You are just demonstrating complete political opportunism, total opportunism," Mr Cameron said.

"You are behaving like a student politician and frankly that's all you'll ever be."

Mr Miliband shot back with a reference to Mr Cameron's days in the exclusive and raucous Bullingdon Club at Oxford.

"I was a student politician. But I was not hanging around with people who were throwing bread rolls and wrecking restaurants," he said.

"Only you could treble tuition fees and then claim it's a better deal for students.

"No-one is convinced. Isn't it absolutely clear this policy is in chaos?"

This morning Mr Cable announced further concessions to ease the financial burden on students from poorer backgrounds.

They included increasing the number of part-time students who would no longer face upfront tuition fees and increasing the threshold at which existing graduates have to start repaying their loans.

Meanwhile, Mr Clegg again defended the reforms by insisting university education would actually be "cheaper" because graduates would be allowed to clear their loans more slowly, and many would never repay the full amount.

"Our estimates are that 60% of graduates will never pay off the full value of their loan at all," the Deputy Prime Minister told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"So when people are talking about these very, very scary numbers in terms of the amount of money you have to pay back, it's worth remembering it's not something the majority of graduates are going to have to pay off in full at all."

He confirmed that MPs serving as ministerial aides would be permitted to abstain, but will lose their jobs if they vote against the fees package.

Belfast Telegraph


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