Environment Secretary Michael Gove launched a robust defence of university tuition fees Sunday, after Theresa May’s first Secretary of State Damian Green called for a debate about the issue a day prior.
Mr. Gove, who was hauled back into the cabinet after being sacked by Prime Minister Theresa May last year, said it was right graduates were burdened with paying “something back” and increasing taxes for the public who haven’t gone to university is “wrong”.
“If we have to fund higher education, and if people who get university degrees go on to earn well, they should pay something back, which is what the current system does,” he said. “It’s wrong if people who don’t go to university find that they have to pay more in taxation to support those who do.”
The proposal to abolish the £9,000 a year university tuition fees was a bedrock of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour general election campaign that saw an unprecedented rise in young voters descending to the polls to cast their ballots for Labour.
Mr Green, who as first secretary of state is effectively Mrs. May’s deputy, said at a conference in London on Saturday that it was one of the issues the Conservative party must consider carefully as it learned the lessons of the election result.
But the universities minister, Jo Johnson, responded by defending the current system, branding such proposals “regressive”, citing the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which found scrapping tuition fees benefits higher earners and risks lower funding for universities in the future.
Liberal Democrat leadership favourite Sir Vince Cable also denounced claims of scrapping university tuition fees as “very dangerous and stupid”.
And speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr. Gove said: “I believe fundamentally that the purpose of government policy is to support everyone equally, and if you don’t benefit from a university education, you shouldn’t have to pay additionally to support those who do.”
The environment secretary also suggested he was in favour of scrapping the across-the-board 1% pay cap for public sector workers, a contentious issue that has plagued the Tories. Mr. Gove said the government should heed the advice of the public sector pay review bodies.
A number of the eight pay review bodies have already begun to flag warnings about the problems of recruitment and retention of staff if the cap persists until 2019-20.
Mr Gove said: “These pay review bodies have been set up to ensure that we can have authoritative advice on what is required in order to ensure that the public services on which we rely are effectively staffed, and that people within them are effectively supported.”
A growing number of ministers, including the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and the education secretary, Justine Greening, are urging the chancellor to make more funds available in the autumn budget to lift the cap.
Gove also defended the Conservatives’ deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party to shore up Mrs. May’s minority government, at a cost of more than £1bn in additional investment after saying there was no “magic money tree” in response to a nurse seeking a pay rise.