NUS student and UCU demonstration against cuts and tuition fees, credit: SP
NUS student and UCU demonstration against cuts and tuition fees, credit: SP

Free education now, wipe out student debt

Michael Morgan, Coventry Socialist Party

Interest rates on student loan repayments are set to rise in September. Some will pay as much as 12%, up from 4.5%. Higher-earning graduates will plunge £3,000 further into debt in just six months.

This is just another rising cost for students. Among energy price hikes, national insurance increases and inflation, students have been sold a rotten deal. Many are forced to live with their parents, unable to afford the exorbitant rents charged by landlords.

Student loan interest rates are rising to the level of commercial lenders. The government may be forced into a cap from March 2023, but it is likely to be at just 7% or 9%, still a major rise, and little comfort to people trying to pay their bills.

Education is not a product, and should increase student’s knowledge, not the contents of university vice-chancellors’ pockets. As well as all of this, from 2023 those who take on new student loans will have to pay them for up to 40 years rather than 30. Graduates in lower-paid positions, such as nurses, will have to pay longest. Those from working-class backgrounds are also far more likely to take out the full loan, paying more over a longer period, and now at higher interest rates.

Debt mountain

Currently only 17% of graduates pay back their loan in full. Many prospective students now decide not to pursue a degree at all, or to stop short of studying for a postgraduate degree. According to the Guardian, one graduate left education with £189,700 in debt. Whilst this is an exceptional figure, the image it paints of a higher education system run as if it is about making profit is abhorrent. People should not be discouraged from education because of money. University fees should be scrapped entirely, and student debt should be written off for all graduates. We need to build an education system that is about fostering skills and knowledge, and not about profit. We should remove all barriers to education for working-class students, which means the reintroduction of maintenance grants, tackling soaring rents and poor student housing conditions, and making education accessible at every stage of life.