Making students take out loans to cover the £9k per year + costs of uni affects poorer students the most. Go figure.
It sounds kind of obvious when you think about it, and a new report this week proves it.
Although most people agree encouraging people to go to university is a good thing, no one can agree on the best way of doing that while making sure universities have enough money to give people a good education.
Students leave uni with lots of debt, but they may never have to pay it back
In 2015, the UK government scrapped the student maintenance grant, which gave the poorest students extra cash to help them out during university, and replaced it with a loan instead. It saved the government billions of dollars.
That means that kids from lower income backgrounds (the poorest 40 per cent) are leaving university with upwards of £56,000 in debt, while kids from richer backgrounds (the richest 30 per cent) who aren’t eligible for the extra loan leave with around £43,000 in debt (that’s nearly £15,000 difference), the Institute of Fiscal Studies said.
Students are now leaving with so much debt, 77 per cent of them will never actually be able to pay it off.
The UK government says this is all part of the plan. The government higher education minister described it as a “deliberate subsidy” for those people who then don’t go on to earn enough to pay it all off – they take out the loan, and don’t ever have to pay it back, so effectively they have had free education.
But the government’s also ‘frozen’ – or just not raised in a while – the point you start paying your loan back, even though wages and prices in the UK are rising. That means more people are earning enough (£21,000 a year) to pay their loans back even though they might not feel like they’re rich enough.
Labour is seeing the release of this report as a big boost for its policy of getting rid of fees. It's described the government’s fees system as a “tax on aspiration”, and that the chance to be educated shouldn't result in a 'lifetime of debt'. But the government says it’s the fairest way of making sure universities have enough money to provide a good education for everyone.
Studies from other countries show getting rid of fees doesn't always make education fairer
The problem is, there isn’t actually that much evidence to show that making university free is the answer.
The UK government’s arguing that its solution to this problem – making tuition expensive, but saying you only have to repay the loan if you end up earning loads of money – is the best way of making sure universities are properly funded, and making sure that everyone can go if they want to.
Now, let’s be clear – young voters were voting on a lot more than just university fees, but Labour’s success and a high turnout in university towns could show that the free tuition message got through to voters. The question is whether it was the right message for giving everyone, including those who have been hardest hit by the current government's ideas on the matter, an equal chance.