Jeremy Corbyn, who has taken a surprising lead in the Labour leadership contest, has said he will scrap university tuition fees as part of a £10bn plan.

Corbyn, a Labour backbencher and relative unknown prior to the leadership race, announced that he would pay for the initiative through a 7% rise in national insurance or by slowing the rate of deficit reduction.

The Islington MP and staunch left-winger apologised for the Labour's decision to implement tuition fees in 1998 saying he had opposed the plans at the time.

"Education is not about personal advancement but is a collective good that benefits our society and our economy," he said.

"I want to apologise on behalf of the Labour Party to the last generation of students for the imposition of fees, top-up fees and the replacement of grants with loans by previous Labour governments.

"I opposed those changes at the time - as did many others - and now we have an opportunity to change course," he said.

A private survey seen by the New Statesman magazine has put the 66-year-old socialist in front of leadership favourite Andy Burnham, former work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper, and shadow care minister Liz Kendall in the first round of voting.

The poll, which was apparently commissioned on behalf of two rival campaigns, put Burnham ahead on first preference votes but showed, with second preference votes, Corbyn is set become Ed Miliband's successor.

However, a source close to one of the Labour leadership campaigns told IBTimes UK that their private data suggested Burnham is ahead, with Cooper a close second, Corbyn "some way behind" in third place, and Kendall trailing the pack.

Corbyn's announcement comes as caretaker labour leader Harriet Harman faces a rebellion from her MPs over the party's decision not to oppose all of the Conservative government's planned welfare cuts. Liz Kendall has backed the plans but all other Labour leadership contenders including Corbyn have denounced the position.