Maguire expresses concern over potential student loans overhaul

Proposed changes could give universities greater freedom over tuition fees and loan repayments

Sam Maguire, YUSU President, has criticised potential changes to the country’s student loan system, posting a Facebook status saying he was “so unimpressed with [the] idea”.

David Willetts

David Willetts. Photo credit: Department for Business, Innovation & Skills

Led by David Willetts, former Minister of State for Universities and Science, the proposed changes, which are yet to become official policy, could be some of the largest to Higher Education in decades and give universities greater freedom over tuition costs and loan repayments.

As it stands, students are loaned money to pay for tuition, and often living costs, by the UK Government’s non-departmental Student Loans Company, which is in charge of Student Finance England. The costs are covered directly by the Treasury.

The changes, were they to become law, would mean that some students would be paying back their loan debt to their university – or both – should it buy students’ debt off the Treasury. This could give universities more freedom to choose what they charge in tuition.

Willetts, who appeared on BBC Newsnight to explain the ideas, said: “Why not give universities that wish it the opportunity of holding the loans belonging to their own graduates?”

The research suggests that this could potentially put less pressure on the UK Government to fund the cost of tuition, whilst also giving universities a more direct link with alumni after they graduate. Officials have said about “half a dozen” top universities would support the changes.

Whilst some have heralded the research as a move that finally allows more respected institutions the freedom to charge more for their degrees, others say that it puts business ahead of academic integrity, arguing that universities could neglect subjects that would not always ensure repayment of loans, or begin admitting fewer people from groups that tend to have lower lifetime earnings, such as students from poorer families.

Maguire told Nouse: “Universities will focus on employable degrees which will mean fewer students will be able to pursue their passions in the traditionally less-employable areas such as arts and humanities.

“Shifting the burden of student debt from the Government to the university will see a narrowing in the type of students who universities want to admit.”

However, Willetts has stated that, if necessary, regulation could be put in place to ensure academic integrity.

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