Politicians Need to Stop Lying to Students About Student Debt

Politicians have used ‘student debt’ as a political football for generations.

Since the 2010 General Election and the following increase of the tuition fee cap in England to £9,000, the funding of higher education in a manner deemed sustainable has been fiercely contested. The Liberal Democrats have already suffered from their lack of opposition to the increase during their time in coalition with the Conservative Party. Since then, the Tories have increased fees, scrapped grants and lowered maintenance loans available to students. 

Labour has constantly criticised  the moves and are now strongly in favour of scrapping tuition fees under the leadership of Sir Kier Starmer, first introduced under Jeremey Corbyn. The key factor in which both sides have yet to understand is that fees are not the problem students face, it is the lack of living expenses they receive in the form of maintenance loans/ grants. 

As of 2020, the maintenance loan which a prospective student from England can receive depends upon 2 factors; whether or not you will live at home or if you will be living in London or outside. Depending upon your circumstances you could receive anywhere between £7,747 to £12,010. To an 18-year-old just leaving secondary school this looks like a lot of money however after living on that sum for 2-3 years you realise that it is just barely enough. It equates to between £620- £1001 per month, to cover rent and living costs. Unless you are very savvy with your budget, which most students aren‘t because they are not educated on how to budget properly in secondary school, most struggle and as a result suffer from severe anxiety. 

This often leads to some students taking out payday loans as they feel it is synonymous with the ‘student loans’ they receive from the Government. But this is far from the truth, the ‘student loans’ which are taken out are closer to a tax for many reasons. It is repaid through the income tax system, you only repay it if you earn over a certain amount, for English students that is over £26,575. The amount increases with earnings, but the max you will ever pay is 9% of your yearly earnings. It does not affect your credit rating nor will it impact your ability to get a mortgage and the more you borrow does not increase repayments. Similarly it will be written off after 30 years. 

The problem with the student loan system comes from the language used which can put some students off going to university and create anxiety for their parents. This stems from the means tested section in student finance forms; whereby most parents do not realise that up to the age of 25, if their child is in full time higher education then they are considered to be financially linked. 

When the government increased tuition fees there was outcry from students everywhere however ironically it has increased the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds attending university. Since 2009 the number of students from lower income families attending university has increased by 62% according to UCAS. However in Scotland, which does not have tuition fees, in 2019 saw 13.3% of 18-year olds from lower income families attend university compared to that of 21.0% in England. This is largely due to lack of resources from Holyrood going to disadvantaged backgrounds to encourage these students to attend further education. 

As a student myself, I do not fear an increase in tuition fees, what I do fear is as a result of the coronavirus is a cut to my maintenance grant/loan from the Northern Irish student finance board. Due to devolution the amount of money I receive is slightly different than England or Scotland however the problem is the same, it is barely enough to live off. This is because the loan is designed with the 3 term, 9-month teaching period in mind and not the 12 months most students spend at their prospective university area. It is this disconnect which affects students more than simply a hike in tuition fees which will largely never get paid back, with the Government estimating that only 38% of total money and interest will be repaid. 

The report into post-18 education ordered by Theresa May back in 2018 has yet to be released and could prove crucial in Boris Johnson‘s efforts to reform universities in England and win over students for the next General Election in 2024. 

Featured Image Credit: Needpix.com

Politicians have used ‘student debt’ as a political football for generations.