by Robyn Banks

Last week it was announced that the total student debt in the UK has reached over £100 billion for the first time. Whilst this milestone was inevitable, it is nonetheless an indictment of the current government’s claim that it is easy and convenient for students to pay off their debt under the post-2010 system.

Currently, students begin paying off their loans from the moment they start earning £21,000/year. The more you earn, the more you pay back each year. However, 30 years after graduating the debt is wiped. In all likelihood, you won’t have paid it all off by then due to the increased interest on it. This means that the increasing amount of debt that is being carried by students will inevitably become a burden for the government, as they have to write it off and accept their losses.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that loans used to pay ‘tuition fees’ were used to pay for tutors’ wages and teaching equipment. But hand-in-hand with the 2010 fee rise came massive cuts to government funding of higher education, leaving them reliant on student fees for the bulk of their income. So tuition fees pay for everything, from site maintenance to management pay rises. And because the loans aren’t always sufficient to keep everything functioning properly, and they are often spent unwisely, universities have started to make decisions that will be extremely detrimental to their futures as real places of learning.


Manchester Metropolitan University. Credit: Ardfern

At Aberystwyth, Manchester, Durham and many more institutions, huge job cuts are being made to try and balance the books. This will have serious effects on the students who learn in these departments, shrinking the diversity of modules available to them. In other universities cuts are even more severe – at Manchester Metropolitan University, an entire campus has been closed as their funding has decreased further and further. This would be a significant loss for any university, but for a smaller, less well-known institution this move could signal complete collapse in the near future, as it will attract fewer students and therefore less funding after the closure.

The current economic model for student loans is worse than broken – it was built to fail, and it cannot be repaired. The government is handing out high interest loans, saddling students with debts upwards of £40k that will sit with them for 30 years, until it enters the government’s own black hole and becomes their problem. Raising fees has not been and never will be a solution. All it can achieve is saddling students with an even more unnecessary amount of debt, creating pressure and anxiety throughout their working life.

there is a real possibility that we can build an alternative in the coming years

The system doesn’t have to be like this. During the general election Labour promised the end of student fees, with the Green Party going one step further and promising to cancel all student debt. Although neither of these parties won the election, the fact they made these promises and, in Labour’s case, managed to galvanise the emotion surrounding it to gain votes and seats, shows that there is a real possibility that we can build an alternative in the coming years.

Before the Blair Government introduced fees, students could attend university for free in the knowledge that their place of study was funded well enough to ensure they received the best education possible. In the 20 years that have followed this has sadly become less of a norm and more of a dream for everyone involved on higher education. But with Labour and the Greens in the ascendancy and promising a return to this fairer world, the end of the market system may be nigh. We can only hope that it dies before the institutions that depend on it do.

Featured image: Indentured Student by DonkeyHotey

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