Alan Bennett was right on tuition fees

This week I received a letter telling me that “The Student Loans Company can advise you that the outstanding balance on your Income Contingent Loan(s) should now be repaid in full.”

Recently I have been paying over £100 a month back towards my student loan, and it’s great to have it finally paid off, but it’s taken me until the age of 30 to do so. And I’m one of the lucky ones. I earn above the national average salary, don’t have any dependents and, crucially, my loan was for living expenses only (1999-2002), not tuition fees.

So, my loan was approximately £10k.

Current students will have to pay back approximately £20k (£10k tuition fees plus £10k living expenses).

Under the system proposed by the coalition, graduates may have to pay back around £45k (£35k tuition fees plus £10k living expenses).

How long is this likely to take them? Well it all depends how much you earn and what happens to interest rates. But if it took me that long, it’s going to take the majority of graduates thirty plus years. This is at a time when many of them will be raising families, buying houses, etc.

I’m afraid I simply don’t accept that it’s fair to ask new graduates to pay back this huge amount of money while the rest of us, who were lucky enough to graduate under previous systems, get off scot free.

I appreciate that Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have been trying to make the Browne Report proposals fairer than the Tories would have done. However, they have done a huge disservice to the Liberal Democrats by giving the impression that they support the raise in tuition fees, despite having the abstention opt-out secured in the coalition agreement. This has dealt a massive blow to our credibility. Our policy remains that decided many years ago at conference, and confirmed repeatedly, most recently in the 2010 manifesto. We are against tuition fees as a way of funding higher education and want to phase them out.

Alan Bennett’s comment, made after the Labour Government introduced higher tuition fees in 2003, was right then and remains so now.

“A proper education should be free at the point of entry and the point of exit.”
(Preface to The History Boys, 2004)

3 Replies to “Alan Bennett was right on tuition fees”

  1. I think you have misunderstood how the Coalition Government proposal will work. As the IFS have said, they are basically proposing a graduate tax. According to the IFS analysis[1] (which will be updated soon to reflect the fact that Parliament was misled over exactly how progressive the proposals are), “at most 1.0-1.65% of graduates would pay back the full value of their debt.” This is because any debt remaining after 30 years is written off (as opposed to 25 years at present).

    And I should add that any Liberal Democrat (and I am still a member for the moment) who seriously thinks that the party can retain its policy to abolish tuition fees after Liberal Democrats in Government have decided to triple them needs to get their head examined.


  2. I understand what the policy does, but to be honest for me it’s the worst of both worlds. It is still referred to as tuition fees (so we can be accused of breaking the pledge) but as you point out is nearly a graduate tax.

    I haven’t got much time for a graduate tax either, but at least it would avoid the spectre of the not-very-pleasant student loans company. I won’t support anything which means 98% of graduates being pursued by them for 30 years after graduating. Although you don’t have to pay until you’re owning over the threshold, they will probably demand regularly that you prove that you don’t own that much. If they suspect you of moving house then they will trace you, and charge you for the privilege. If you live abroad they will want proof.

    From a philosophical point of view, I just don’t like the idea of being in debt for so much with little prospect of paying it off.

    I was against tuition fees before the election and, funnily enough, I haven’t changed my mind about them since.

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