With universities set to increase their fees to more than £10,000 a year by 2020, widespread discontent about spiralling student debt looks unlikely to abate, and leading academics are warning that the government could be forced into a U-turn on fees.
Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to scrap tuition fees encouraged student voters to turn out in their droves to vote for him. On the same day that Parkins opened her alarming loan statement, Theresa May’s top aide, Damian Green, the first secretary of state, admitted that anxiety about fees was “a huge issue” and required a national debate.
Professor Andy Green, a specialist on learning and life chances at the Institute of Education, says the current loans system is “morally indefensible”. He says: “This generation in many respects is doing worse than their parents and it looks like they will continue to do so into their 30s and 40s. When they enter middle age and around two-thirds of them still can’t buy houses, and they are paying back large amounts on their graduate loans, that will be a big issue. There is a crisis brewing.”
Green says that following the election the government cannot avoid grasping the nettle. “Clearly young voters found the idea of getting rid of fees attractive. Fees are back on the political agenda.”
His preferred solution is for the government to scrap fees and loans in favour of an “all-age graduate tax”, with those who enjoyed free higher education also contributing to the cost of today’s university courses by paying an additional tax of about 2.5%. “This idea wasn’t politically sellable 10 years ago, but it is now,” he says. “People are realising the huge amount of debt young people are taking on is pretty inequitable and we now know just how many people are not going to pay back those loans, landing the taxpayer with the debt. The system isn’t working.”
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