Fee-rise not ruled out as more students struggle to repay loans

Jocelyn Major 28 March 2014

In a recent television interview Universities and Science Minister David Willetts refused to rule out a further increase in tuition fees. This comes amid fears that the £9000 loan could end up costing the government more than the old fee system of £3000.

Willetts was asked if university fees would be increased again after the 2015 election and responded: "We will have to see how the income of universities performs". He also declined to comment on the possible reduction of the current threshold for the repayment of the student loan from £21000.

However, he suggested that the current system is effective for the immediate future, stating that "we have a structure for £9000 and £21000 and that is working".

Whilst speaking against the £9000 tuition fee, George Howes, Chair of the Cambridge Universities Labour Club (CULC) suggested: "We don't, however, believe the coalition will raise tuition fees above £9000. After all, Nick Clegg said just last week that there was 'absolutely no need' to raise tuition fees further, and he's a man with a strong history of honesty and standing up for student interests…"

Nevertheless, this refusal to outright reject a further fee hike comes following an announcement on 20 March that up to 45% of student loans are unlikely to be repaid. As a result it has been suggested that the new £9000 tuition fee could actually come to cost more than the former fee system. Consultants at London Economics suggest that this will occur if the percentage of students unable to repay their loans reaches 48.6%.

Earlier this month Cantabs showed their anger at Willetts’ initial decision to raise the fee boundary to £9000 when he came to speak at the Union and recent revelations that the fee increase may not prove finically viable have only reignited student anger about the £900 tuition fee.

George Howes (CULC) further noted: "It’s quite extraordinary that the coalition has managed to put off prospective students from university by raising tuition fees, whilst simultaneously failing to make any money from this. That the coalition has failed on this policy area comes has no surprise. This is, after all, a government which has consistently disregarded the issues that matter to young people- be that over the privatisation of student loans, the abolition of EMA or presiding over a record high of youth unemployment."

Speaking about the failings of the £9000 tuition fee system Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary for Labour, noted that ministers "have got their sums badly wrong and left a black hole in the student finance budget running into billions of pounds."

"In 2010 David Cameron and the Tory-led government trebled tuition fees and cut funding for universities and students, but this new evidence shows their system could end up costing the taxpayer more than the one it replaced.

"This … is a student loan time bomb that is actually already exploding under the government."

Highlighting the negative implications of the £9000 fee, Cambridge History student Rory Weal said: "Not only do £9,000 a year tuition fees put off many low-income students from applying to university, but now we’ve learnt that the scheme is largely ineffectual and costing as much as the old system. Yet David Willets insists on leaving the door open for further fee rises. Students need to make their voices heard: we won’t stand for any more increases in tuition fees."