What does the review of student loans mean for you?
On Monday, Theresa May launched a ‘major and wide-ranging’ review into higher education, suggesting that change of some kind will be coming. She emphasised technical and vocational education, and changes that could be made to the loan system. What will this mean for you?
Since the 2012 hike to £9,000, since adjusted to £9,250, student loans have been an incredibly controversial and personal subject. Whilst the tripling of fees raised opposition, the repayment system became more flexible and has allowed greater access to higher education. But this does not change the fact that students come out of uni with colossal debt, likely to be a source of stress for life for all but the highest earners.
The review launched on Monday may (or may not) prove to improve the student loans system for future years, making life a little easier for students. Whilst it is only an investigatory review, the vibe of the speech was this, which raises a number of issues:
May gives comparison of working class boy from Derby who wants to go to uni, and middle class girl from private school who doesn't - suggesting its wrong that the aspiration to go to Uni is the default assumption— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) February 19, 2018
PM says not nealy enough attention has been paid to technical and vocational education - points to perception that university the most desirable option, 'we need to throw away this outdated assumption for good'— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) February 19, 2018
1 – Representation of disadvantaged backgrounds
Students from working class backgrounds can struggle financially and culturally at university, they are left with the biggest debts, and it can force them to reconsider whether they want to go at all. This is unfair. In response to this issue, May suggested that maintenance grants could be reintroduced,not long after being scrapped in 2015.
2 – Less for certain subjects
Education secretary Damian Hinds added that there is a possibility of social science and humanities degrees costing less, to match their value in terms of employment prospects. This would save money for affected students, but potentially could leave their courses underfunded.
3 - Technical and vocational education
PM emphasising time and again it's about trying to make sure students get education that's right for them and trying to end snobbery towards vocational courses— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) February 19, 2018
May also made clear her desire to shift emphasis from the ‘old fashioned attitude’ of university as the only/the most desirable path for young people. Currently, around half of us go to uni because we see it as the default – May wants technical and vocational courses to be perceived as an equally viable option.
All in all, the aim is said to be to improve the funding system, and make students’ lives easier, but the speech has been met with a great deal of criticism:
Is there a single person who thinks the latest Tory plan on tuition fees is a good idea.— (((Dan Hodges))) (@DPJHodges) February 19, 2018
A number of people have pointed out that a lowering of fees may actually do nothing for poorer students, merely making life easier for wealthier ones. Martin Lewis’ tweet shows how basically, few people will ever pay off the full debt anyway and have it written off 30 years after graduating, so lowering fees really only benefits students from wealthy backgrounds whose parents can afford to pay off the fee while they are at uni.
Why, bizarrely, cutting tuition fees under the current system would HURT not help most students. A two minute briefing.— Martin Lewis (@MartinSLewis) February 18, 2018
Ps RT. pic.twitter.com/S8beUfSO8z
Other critics say the opposite:
I'll save the tax payers a bunch of money and do this review in less than 10 seconds:— Shehab Khan (@ShehabKhan) February 19, 2018
Tuition fees are too high.
You're welcome. https://t.co/KCXE4cotKM
But most agree that the language of ‘loans’ is inaccurate and off-putting – former Education Secretary Justine Greening criticised the government, suggesting that it ought to urgently reintroduce maintenance grants, and have students pay into a higher education fund pot, payments to which would not disproportionately penalise poorer students, and would facilitate contributions from businesses.
Labour’s response has been the most critical, they want to offer to scrap all these issues and make tuition free, which would probably make a lot of students quite happy.
Basically, it’s just a review so it’s not clear what will change, but it could have interesting results.