Posted on Wed 15 Feb 2017 at 12:03 by Christopher Carter
Another day, another piece of utterly depressing news for students: the government has recently announced that they intend to move forward with their selling-off of outstanding student loans to private companies.
What exactly does this mean? Well, graduates who took out loans before the 2012 academic year could now find themselves making repayments to private lenders who are buying up contracts from the Student Loans Company (SLC). The first to be sold will be the 2002-06 student loan book, with further plans over the next four years to sell off debt from all loans taken out before 2012 (when tuition fees were tripled).
As always, what is claimed to be in the interest of public finances is in fact nothing of the sort. The government speculates that they will make £12bn from this transaction – however, given their history of selling off public assets at eye-watering losses in everything-must-go fire-sales, it hardly needs stating that their projections are likely to hold as much water as a sieve. Furthermore, this announcement shows a complete disregard for both the dangerous precedent it sets and the financial impact it could have on students past and present.
Such irresponsible, short-term plans have been rightly criticised by many across the sector, including financial experts. If you were to take out a loan from a private lender under agreed terms and they then attempted to change that agreement, you would be right to expect that this would be subject to legal recourse. It is truly alarming that, for those affected by this policy, their student loans will now be controlled by private companies whose principal motivation is to squeeze as much interest as possible from graduate borrowers. This could potentially mean further underhand changes to the Terms and Conditions of loan repayments at the lender’s discretion, with students bearing the brunt.
Naturally, the government insists that such retrospective changes will not take place – though I’m sure that once the loans have been offloaded, they will be more than happy to wash their hands of the whole affair and leave it to the “wisdom” of the market. And of course, such promises have never stopped them before: this is, after all, the same government which has only recently attempted to move the goalposts on loan repayment thresholds in order to extract even more money from graduates! This is a government with an unparalleled track record on breaking promises to students – whether it’s assuring us that they won’t raise fees further than £9k a year then unveiling plans to do just that, or assuring us that they believe in “equality of opportunity” before slashing vital financial aid for the most vulnerable or disadvantaged. The sheer gall displayed by each of these underhand manoeuvres is simply astonishing.
Though the proposals as they stand will impact very few of our existing members, they are very likely an indication of what is it come in the future for those who are currently studying. As has been made abundantly clear by the widely-derided Higher Education & Research Bill currently undergoing scrutiny in the House of Lords, we already know that this government has an agenda of full marketisation. The Great Student Loan Sell-Off of 2017 is a quiet transfer of wealth to private companies, and yet another example of back-door privatisation by any means necessary. It is only a matter of time before they attempt to roll the sell-off plans out still further - rest assured, the pre-agreed Terms & Conditions of your own loan will undoubtedly be next.
Although the familiarity of these sorts of announcements is wearying, it doesn’t make them any less of an outrage. This government’s relentless commitment to the marketisation of the Higher Education sector is now firmly beyond doubt. As an SU, we stand for a free, accessible and democratic Higher Education system. The notion that private investment companies should profit from students’ education, without students having any say or power over this decision, runs in direct opposition to this belief. The government’s actions are deeply irresponsible, and we must oppose them in whatever way we can.
The NUS is currently running an Only Fools & Courses campaign HERE – please take a few moments to add your details to their webform to let your local MP know that you are opposed to the loan sell-off!