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Here’s why we should reject government proposals to sell student debt to universities

Here’s why we should reject government proposals to sell student debt to universities

This week, proposals from the Government suggest student debt could be handed over to universities. This is the latest scramble to find a solution to the loans crisis, and potentially even more problematic than the now buried proposal of selling it off to private companies. Marketising education is an experiment which has cost the taxpayer more, not less, and saddled a generation of people with a debt they will likely never pay off.

What are the main consequences of this proposal, and why should we reject it?

  • Universities will shift their purpose from education to employability. The model of the fee repayment scheme means that a graduate who earns more money will pay their debt back quicker. If universities income relied on the speed with which we pay back our loans, their purpose would move drastically from existing to educate us in the broadest sense, to shoe-horning us in to high paid jobs. A greater emphasis would be placed on conforming to employers’ interests than on creating a curriculum that challenges, innovates and encourages us to take risks.
  • The offer from Higher Education would narrow. Sectors like the arts and humanities, whose  respective industries don’t typically pay high salaries (partly thanks to Government cuts) would struggle for funding and institutions would be less and less incentivised to run such courses.
  • Structural inequality would become even worse. If universities’ purpose was to recruit students who would earn the most, its intake of home students would favour white men from well-off families. Research shows that, even with a degree of the same calibre, there is still a substantial pay gap for graduates who are black, women and from working class backgrounds.
  • Universities could change the terms of repayment. Graduates currently don’t have to start repaying before they earn £21,000: at 9% of their monthly income; but the government could allow the T&Cs to be re-set under any new system.
  • We would see more business control of education. Universities would want to guarantee graduate employment, so the existence of business-sponsored courses would likely increase, much like we’ve seen in Further Education with the development of Universal Technical Colleges. Institutions could altogether ditch control of the curriculum, with corporates running courses as opposed to academics.
  • It would be a big logistical burden. Somebody stationed within a university would need to spend time chasing students’ debt; day in, day out. Unis will have to set up whole new departments or else academics and support staff will be forced to do more work. Spending current students’ money on chasing back former students’ debt is not where investment in education should be going, nor is it how our staff want to spend their time.

In creating a truly accessible system, free from private profit, the Government needs to write-off the fees and loans system altogether. It should be those who earn the most that pay into our education system: but channelled through a general progressive income tax, administered by HMRC; not via a University-run debt collection which corporatises students, pressures graduates and puts the future of a public education system as a whole in the red.