A photo of a student protest with people carrying placards reading "free education now, tax the rich"

The UK government has yet another plan to reform higher education funding for England and Wales. The proposals would mean people would only eligible for a student loan if they pass both Maths and English at GCSE level. In addition, the government is seeking to make recipients of a student loan eligible for repayments over a 40 year period, and for repayments to begin when a graduate earns over £25,000 per year. Presently, students who took out a loan after 2012 pay it back over a 30 year period once they are earning more than £27,295 a year.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has argued that these changes would disproportionately affect those from marginalised backgrounds. Now, new polling from National Union of Students (NUS) has found that the proposed changes risk shutting hundreds of thousands of potential students out of higher education.

The poll commissioned by NUS found that 22 per cent of students in higher education would not have applied to university if their loan would be written off after 40 years, as opposed to 30. It also found that 19 percent would not have applied if the earnings threshold for repayments was lowered.

Most significantly, the poll found that one in ten university students would not have been able to attend university if the requirement to pass Maths and English at GCSE was in place in order to access student loans.

NUS President Larissa Kennedy said that the plan amounted to “calculated cruelness”. She said,

The Government’s proposals are calculated cruelness. Their changes to student loans will stop those from marginalised groups from attending university. Meanwhile, the highest earners will save tens of thousands thanks to these plans, and those who do attend and end up on lower and middle incomes will pay back £54,000 more over the course of their careers.

At a time where the cost of living is soaring and real earnings are crashing, for the more vulnerable these classist changes could be the difference between heating and eating. The Minister is saddling young people with unimaginable debt for the next forty years of their lives.

Kennedy went on to allege that the government is “seeking to gatekeep education for the most privileged”. She said,

Their plans to introduce minimum eligibility requirements are a further attack on opportunity. They gaslight us with the language of “levelling up” but their proposals are classist, ableist and racist. By seeking to gatekeep education for the most privileged, they are cruelly targeting those from marginalised communities.

These proposed changes come at a time when interest rates on existing student loans are set to rise to up to 12 per cent in September.

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Image credit: Socialist Appeal – Creative Commons