Angela Rayner takes Tories to task over ‘toxic, eye-watering debts’

Angela Rayner
Ed Sykes

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner has slammed “the current broken system” of higher education loans. She blames Conservative-led governments for creating “vast levels of debt” and passing “almost half the cost” onto taxpayers. And she insists that a Labour government would do things very differently.

“Student loan debt set to almost double”

The Labour Party has criticised the current student loan system on a number of fronts. Having looked at “official government projections”, the party revealed on 13 August that:

the total interest being racked up by graduates on their student loan debt is set to rise to £8.6 billion in 2024, an increase of £4.2 billion.

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And it highlighted that most of this increase began under the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition, saying:

almost all the rise in accrued interest will come from the post-2012 undergraduate loans, with the total interest added to these debts set to more than double from £3.5 billion to £7.6 billion over the next five years.

The Lib Dems helped the Conservatives to triple tuition fees during the coalition years. This was despite a pledge before the 2010 election to get rid of them completely.

Students who started at university after September 2012 face an interest rate on their loans of 6.3%. And Labour quoted figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggesting that:

fewer than two in 10 graduates will fully pay back their student loans, with the taxpayer now set to pay for almost half of all debt taken out by students this year.

Labour also mentioned the government “selling off student loans at less than half their value, costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds”.

Rayner: current system is “pricing young people out of education”

Commenting on the above, the shadow education secretary stressed that:

A combination of sky-high tuition fees and soaring interest rates is pricing young people out of education and creating eye-watering debts for those who do go to university.

Under the Tories and their broken student loan system, thousands of students are being burdened with vast levels of debt that they will never be able to repay.

With almost half the cost of the current broken system being picked up by the taxpayer, the government should stop cooking the books and start being honest with the public about how we fund higher education.

And she promised:

Labour will scrap tuition fees and restore maintenance grants for disadvantaged students so that access to education is a right for all, and everyone can reach their potential, regardless of their background.

She also tweeted that the current situation was a “toxic combination for taxpayers & graduates”.

Should Labour go even further?

In the US, prospective presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is currently making waves with his own education plans. He’s promising not just to end tuition fees, but to cancel all existing student debt:

And some UK commentators have been suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour should also make this leap:

Back in 2017, Conservative politicians and their media allies claimed that Corbyn had officially pledged to cancel all student debt. This wasn’t true. However, shadow chancellor John McDonnell insisted that it was a “real ambition”. And Corbyn stressed:

there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden.

Now, though, the debate about cancelling student debt is mainstream in the US. And that may put increasing pressure on Labour to make a similar pledge in the UK.

Whether this comes or not, one thing is certain. The current Conservative system has failed, becoming toxic for both graduates and taxpayers. So something desperately needs to change. And Corbyn’s Labour seems to be leading the charge for reform.

Featured image via Wikimedia – Rwendland

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    1. I offer no solution but it is clear no lasting one can emerge unless fees/debt are placed in context of the function and structure of higher education. Perhaps short term amelioration can be achieved by moving money around among government accounts or by subsuming debt in ‘quantitative easing’; goose for bankers could be goose for students too.

      British universities are adopting priorities and modes of doing business akin to those of US counterparts. Instead of benign somewhat bumbling leadership by senior academics, universities have adopted corporate structures, corporate pay at the very top, and business models where cash generation is king rather than an irritating necessity. In some respects this is admirable adaptation to the neo-liberal ethos; everything has a price down to a penny, this including teaching and scholarship; departments can be judged as ‘profit centres’ and perhaps forced to compete internally; universities compete and trumpet success in terms of income received from students and from research grants. Academics are judged on research grant income raised.

      Inefficiencies in university governance before Mrs Thatcher ‘squeezed out the slack’ in public services were far preferable to slick, tacky, market-orientated methods and outcomes nowadays. To an extent, education and scholarship genuinely are commodities. Yet, they have value in terms incommensurable with simple minded market-economics suitable for trading widgets. They are assets within the broad swathe of culture; and culture is what humans generate once free of subsistence existence; put thus, market-capitalism is a driver for freeing up time and usable wealth for deployment in cultural pursuits (e.g. music, literature, curiosity-led science, and space exploration); it is no end of itself and human ambitions ought not be subservient to it.

      Hence, as with so many other messes left to be unpicked after three decades of neo-liberalism, higher education and scholarship require revisiting with regard to function, structure, and finance.

      Also, despite scholarship being a driver for excellence in undergraduate teaching and a necessity for postgraduate supervision it does not follow that they must inextricably be linked at all times. Unfortunately, ‘promotion’ of polytechnics resulted in further forging the link and led to demand for ever more evidence of scholarship from institutions once known for excellence in routine teaching alone. On the whole they can’t live up to the job which is hardly surprising given that older universities are forced into money-raising mediocrity too.

      This leads to suggesting everything ought be ‘up for grabs’ during reconsideration of the role of higher education and scholarship in the UK. Questions arise over balance of curiosity motivated higher education compared to education geared to learning specific skills with intent of them being applied in the workplace. Could there be a reason for suitably motivated individuals to engage in both strands at various points in their lives? Then there is the matter of ‘horses for courses’: aptitudes and motivations vary widely and one may ask whether the ‘one size fits all’ approach to school education has encroached too far into higher education.

      These times of prospective trade deals with the USA make it opportune to examine closely any merit in the US education system from which we should learn. Doubtless there is some, somewhere. However, the overall picture of education in the USA, as apparent from the UK, is dismal and there is far more to avoid than emulate. Student loan misery is but one matter and should not be discussed out of general context.

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