The poorest students will see their debts rise the most due to the government’s new student support system announced today (13 April). That is the claim of the University and College Union (UCU), which represents academic and teaching staff.
The union’s calculations suggest that debt owed by the poorest students for tuition fees could increase from nothing under the current system, to as much as £17,250 (at the end of a three-year undergraduate degree) for students starting under the new 2012 system.
Although the new package contains an increase in maintenance grants, that increase does not match the increase in fees. Students from the poorest backgrounds, who previously had their fees covered by government grants and a university bursary, will now face a tuition fee debt when they graduate.
On top of that, the vast majority of students will still need to take out a maintenance loan to cover living expenses.
“Students from the poorest backgrounds will see their debt on graduation increase the most,” said UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt. She described this as “another example of just how unfair the whole fees policy is”
Hunt added, “Nick Clegg and David Cameron can talk all they like about social mobility and a lack of students from certain backgrounds at some universities, but tripling fees and massively increasing the debt of poorest students is only going to exacerbate the problem”.
The union also drew attention to the fact that taxpayers’ money will be given to students to cover their fees at private profitmaking universities for the first time.
UCU said the move raised serious questions about the quality of UK higher education and cautioned against taxpayers’ money being given to private providers following the scandals in the USA.
“We have real concerns about the expanding for-profit degree business in this country,” said Hunt, “We only need to look at America to see the that for-profit higher education is fraught with danger for students and taxpayers alike and, at the very least, needs to be properly regulated”.
As controversy over the government’s plans continued today, the National Union of Students (NUS) elected Liam Burns as its new president. Burns began by calling for continued peaceful direct action against fees. His predecessor Aaron Porter was criticised from several sides for ambivalence over peaceful lawbreaking.
Nonviolent direct action is backed by a number of other national student organisations, including the Student Christian Movement (SCM).