By 2015 the Coalition will have landed another right-hook on the collective jawbone of students and graduates with the planned privatisation of our student debt.
These divisive plans would see student tuition loans boxed-up and sold-off to the highest bidder. It’s a privatisation that will further erode the concept of the university as a public service, reduce access to education, and impact on the already struggling body of students and graduates.The first tranche of loans (pre-1998) have already been auctioned-off, and the rest will swiftly follow unless we make it loud and clear that we do not find this acceptable.
The government has attached a £10 billion price tag to the student loan book. In order to achieve the highest price and ensure profits for the buyers, financial sweeteners will have to be offered – most likely by an increase in the cap on interest rates.
Students will be forced to pay more, and for longer, to repay their student debt. This amounts to a retrospective tuition fee hike.
The planned debt sell-off will also undermine the confidence in the student loan system. Many young people have been convinced to begin their working life in the shadow of thousands of pounds of debt with the promise of low repayments and favourable terms.
“The full force of the government axe falling on the neck[s] of young people and students”
What’s to say the new owners will honour these conditions?
The government’s assurances that interest rates will not be increased are meaningless, and somewhat reminiscent of a certain Liberal Democrat promise on tuition fees.
They are also non-binding to future governments: the door will already have been opened to interest rate rises. Debt has already played a role in deterring those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds from applying to university, and the inevitable changes in terms and conditions that will come with this sale will do so even further.
We would not accept retrospective changes on a private loan, so why should we accept this?
This is part of a wider trend that consistently sees the full force of the government axe fall on the neck of young people and students. From the outrageous and undemocratic trebling of tuition fees to the scrapping of EMA that denied many working class students access to education, this government has taken so much and given so little in return.
“This government has taken so much and given so little in return”
While our student loans are sold off to plug holes in government finances, the deficit is conveniently overlooked when cash is dredged up to subsidise private landlords or maintain our outmoded nuclear weapons.
Westminster will continue to ignore the views of students and young people as long as we allow them to, through our disengagement from politics and the decline of student activism. As a collective we can shout louder than we can alone, and shout we must for our voices to be heard.
“Assurances that interest rates will not be increased are meaningless”
Since the government’s plans were announced last Autumn, a series of actions have been organised around the country, culminating in a national week of action last week coordinated by the Student Assembly Against Austerity. On 50 campuses nationwide, students were petitioning, occupying and marching in a range of creative and visual actions against the student debt sell-off.
On our own campus Nottingham Young Greens and UoN Left Society staged a noisy march and rally to raise awareness of this critical issue, and more actions are planned later this term. Already 65 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion condemning the debt sell off, proof that vociferous local campaigning and public pressure works. Despite these successes, much more still needs to be done.
“Once the loans have been sold, there may be no going back”
The student movement has a real opportunity to revive itself, to organise, raise awareness and exercise the right to protest against these dangerous plans. Our vocal opposition is vital in forcing the government to back down. Once the loans have been sold, there may be no going back.