As part of a series of features focusing on the key issues in the General Election campaign, Katie Richardson examines high education tuition fees

TUITION fees have been a contentious issue for voters for years with more and more young people asking themselves whether it pays to go to university.

And with the average debt now having risen to more than £40,000 it’s no wonder the issue is a key one for so many to consider.

Candidates for the Bishop Auckland constituency seat have all been sharing their views on the topic in a bid to get support, especially from younger voters.

Labour Party candidate, Helen Goodman, who has held the seat since 2005, has called the fees “wrong”, saying Labour will abolish them as well as restoring the educational maintenance allowance, otherwise known as EMA, which was scrapped by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in 2010.

She says: “Education is the most important gateway to adult life.

“Labour wants everyone to maximise their chances. It's wrong that students are now leaving university with £44,000 debt on average.

“So from September we will abolish tuition fees for those on new courses and half way through.

“We also want to support young people in further education and will restore educational maintenance allowances which many of their older sisters and brothers had.”

In a rare meeting of minds over policy, the British National Party chairman Adam Walker, who is also standing, agrees that all tuition fees should be scrapped and says his party will deliver the promise by cutting all foreign aid.

He says: “It’s always been our policy [to ban them] since the government introduced tuition fees – we think it’s an absolute disgrace that the brightest and best in our country should be burdened with that amount of debt.”

Conservative candidate, Christopher Adams, takes the opposite stance saying he thinks it is only fair that people who benefit from a university education pay it back.

He says: “It’s really important that people can go to university and further education if they have that aptitude and energy.”

He adds that as graduates are likely to be paid more than non-graduates, they should not be subsidised by those who do not go to university.

The Liberal Democrat candidate, Ciaran Morrisey, acknowledges his party has a tough battle to fight on the issue as many ‘blacklisted’ them after then-leader Nick Clegg went back on a party promise not to increase fees when he formed the coalition government with the Tories in 2010.

Mr Morrisey, who is himself a masters student, says: “I went to uni under the coalition in 2013 and got a grant and maintenance loan – what we [the Liberal Democrats] did is make sure it is free at the point of contact and that led to more young people from poorer backgrounds going to uni, and since the Tories have taken over they have scrapped them making it harder.”

But what do students who are about to enter the world of university think?

Sixth formers at Barnard Castle School gave their views on the subject.

Kim Hodgson, 18, of Hutton Magna, plans to read a degree in agriculture at Harper Adams, Shropshire with the hope of one day taking over her family’s farm.

She says: “I am undecided who to vote for but regardless of the various parties’ claims on university fees believe in paying my own way.

“I don’t really worry about debt as everyone else who has ever been to university seems to have managed well enough.”

Kieran Lewis, 18, of Gainford, has been accepted to read psychological and behavioural sciences at Cambridge University and plans to vote Labour.

He hopes to complete a doctorate which could mean paying £9,500 annually for at least seven years.

He says: “While I think Labour has a valid point in calling for fees to be scrapped, it does beg the question how will they pay for this?

“That said, I wonder who is paying for this now as so many students aren’t paying anything back to the Student Loans Company because they don’t earn enough and a lot of debt is written off.”

Lottie Newnam, 17, of Bedale, just misses out on the right to vote at the election but plans to study dance at Leeds Beckett University.

She says: “The prospect of debt does scare me. As a dancer I might not earn enough to even start paying the student loan back and the prospect of not doing so and for that debt to be eventually written off really goes against the grain and is something I do not feel comfortable about.

“As young people we need support and I think university education should be free for everyone.”