Britain’s student debt revolt is gathering momentum once again, with the news that the largest student debt in England stands at almost Â£ 190,000.
This tempting sum was released in response to an access to information request to the Student Loan Company.
The figure was posted on the social news aggregation site, Reddit. The post sparked anger, with students and graduates sharing their own stories of pitiful student loans.
As one Reddit graduate user wrote: âMy loan from Â£ 49,510 has grown to Â£ 60,081 in the three years since I graduated. And last month I paid Â£ 70. Basically it’s like taxing me 25% instead of 20%. Currently on track to have Â£ 152,000 in student loan debt by 2050. â
An “exceptional case”
In response to FOI’s request, the Student Loan Company (SLC) said the figure of Â£ 189,700 was an “exceptional case” and may have been accrued over several loans for different courses. The organization, which annually grants loans and grants to around two million new and returning students at colleges and universities in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, maintains that the The individual may have undertaken postgraduate studies or dropped out of a number of courses.
Such a scenario, however, has not been confirmed and remains purely speculative.
What is more concrete is the growing debt burden that people carry with them after graduation.
Tuition fees stumbled in 2009
In 2009, tuition fees tripled, when the government decided to shift the cost of courses from the state to students. The policy change raised the fee to Â£ 6,000, with a top tier of Â£ 9,000 if universities promised access to low-income students.
The goal of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government bill to allow universities to triple the tuition cap to Â£ 9,000 has been attributed to a way of offsetting an 80% cut in the budget for the ‘lesson at a time when Britain was planning austerity measures to try to recover some coffers and help recovery after the banking crisis of 2008.
Despite weeks of student protests that saw university buildings and the offices of Lib Dem MPs occupied, the proposals were passed.
A “tragedy for a whole generation of young people”
University minister at the time, David Willetts, called the reform “gradual.” The measure was condemned by Labor, with MP Gareth Thomas calling the fee hike “a tragedy for a whole generation of young people”.
In 2015, the plight of graduates’ finances plunged further when the government changed the terms of student loans. The Cameron administration reneged on its promises that the minimum threshold at which graduates had to start repaying their debt would be tied to average earnings in Britain. Afterwards, low- and middle-income earners may not have to start repaying the debt and if they did, the amounts would be very low. Conservative ministers promised the threshold would be “periodically increased to reflect income.”
The government has backed down on the commitment by removing the increase in the threshold each year to be in line with average incomes, to freeze the threshold at Â£ 21,000 for the next five years.
This meant that debt repayments would start much sooner than expected, and the amount borrowers had to repay with each installment would be higher than expected.
In 2016, the government announced plans to increase tuition fees from Â£ 9,000 to Â£ 9,250.
After two decades of back-to-back hikes and policy changes that place the financial burden on students of going to college, graduates are feeling the effects both financially and emotionally.
A report released by the Higher Education Policy Institute shows that those who graduated in 2020 took out an average loan of $ 45,000. The report notes how graduates feel their debt is “running out, weighing them on their shoulders” and their cause “anxiety, pressure, worry and terror.”
Claire Callender, professor of higher education at UCL and one of the authors of the report, questioned the benefits that rising tuition fees bring to the treasury and to the well-being of graduates.
“Why weigh psychologically and materially on students with huge debts when most will never repay them fully?” And is the student loan system and the revenue it generates for the treasury really worth the potential long-term consequences on the well-being, life choices and opportunities of graduates – affecting the lives of generations to come â , asked Callender.
The government should “write off all student debts”‘
Talk to LFFHillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS vice president for higher education, said the government should abolish tuition fees and write off all student debt.
âWe are in the middle of a student debt crisis. Problems with debt and financial insecurity have worsened since the onset of Covid-19, and NUS research has identified that more than two in three students (70%) are concerned about their ability to manage financially. Rather than tinkering with our broken system, the government should listen to the student movement, abolish tuition fees, and write off all student debt. Only then can we imagine a post-market system where knowledge is not commodified, but rather valued as a public good, âsaid Gyebi-Ababio.
The UK has the highest tuition fees in Europe
Compared to international tuition fees, the cost of university is higher in UK, while England has the most expensive fees in Europe. Many European countries do not charge fees or have low fees. In 2015, Germany cut its tuition fees, which encouraged growing frustration with Britain’s burgeoning tuition revolution.
The revolt over the UK’s staggering tuition fees has come to light again following the recent Freedom of Information request.
As one Reddit user put it in response to the Â£ 189,700 student debt.
âWhen I finish my studies, I’ll be at Â£ 90,000. Ouch.
“Better not think about it.”
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a freelance journalist and editor-in-chief of Left Foot Forward.
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