Student debt has risen at an alarming rate in recent years. Since 2012, expected repayments from the lowest-earning graduates have increased by 30%. Interest rates on university loans, meanwhile, have hit a record 6.1% - a considerably higher percentage than market rates on interest rates. As a result, the worst-off students can expect to leave university with a substantial debt of £57,000, according to a report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
The current fee repayment threshold sits at £21,000. However, one third of university students are predicted to be unable to pay back the full amount of their loans by the time they are written off, thirty years later. A recent headline in the Metro newspaper announced that "student loans [are] worse than a mortgage". The existing fees and funding system is therefore clearly broken.
Conservative politician and universities minister, Jo Johnson, has claimed that the current fees system is benefitting poorer students, citing evidence that there is a record number of students from lower-income backgrounds attending university, with an increase of 43% since 2009.
This increase is not due to the funding system, however; rather, it is a reflection of the ever-increasing competitiveness of the working world and the difficulty of gaining employment and finding a decent job in this epoch of crisis and austerity. Students (and particularly those from poorer households), therefore, feel it is a necessity to go to university – despite the extortionate and eye-watering costs – in order to compete in the world of work and create a successful future for themselves.
The replacement of maintenance grants by loans, for example, only favours those more privileged students and further increases the barriers for lower-income students to attend university. The scrapping of these grants means that those students in need of extra support to cover their living costs leave university with the highest levels of debt. As a result, more and more students are under pressure to work alongside their studies in order to meet these costs, with 67%, and rising, of students working whilst at university. 56% of university students, meanwhile, say that high tuition fees affect their performance and grades.
Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour have promised to remove tuition fees completely. Going even further, Corbyn also put forward the idea of abolishing existing student debt. These aims come as Jeremy Corbyn looks to defend students and working class families against the rising costs of a decent education.
According to the Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, cancelling existing student debts could cost the government up to £100bn. Under pressure to say how they would fund such an expensive move, both Rayner and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, have downgraded this idea from a party pledge to an “ambition”, saying that they could not commit to any policy that the country could not afford. Of course, such concerns about funds were never raised in the establishment media when the money was needed to bail out the bankers in 2008 and cover their dodgy loans.
Whilst right-wing politicians and their friends in the press say that abolishing fees would be too costly, requiring a “magic money tree”, tax-dodging corporations and a privileged elite flaunt their wealth and profits in plain view. The money for scrapping fees, therefore, is clearly there – but it is concentrated in the hands of a tiny few.
More and more, the costs of higher education are being placed on the shoulders of students. At the same time, whilst students are increasingly unable to bear this weight, the rich are getting richer and big businesses are profiteering from a steady-supply of skilled, educated workers. In other words, the current system of tuition fees and university education is yet another reflection of the capitalist system and its insatiable thirst for profits, even in the name of severe unjustness.
The bankers and corporations must be stripped of their power and ownership of the economy. The wealthiest individuals and the biggest businesses should be made to pay for the current crisis and, in turn, repay their debt to society. Instead of sitting idly in the bank accounts of big business, the enormous wealth that exists in society should be put in public hands by nationalising the banks, financial institutions and major industries. In this way we could remove tuition fees for all university students and help to reinstate equality for future generations.
Education should be in the interest of students and society – not in the interest of profits for the richest few. Through mass direct action from students and workers, the dream of free, accessible university education can become a reality.