Six years ago the newly formed coalition government voted to almost treble university tuition fees at English institutions; a move that swiftly alienated the majority of students who had voted Liberal Democrat in the hopes that the leader of the Lib Dems (Nick Clegg) would fulfil his promise to abolish them once and for all. But alas, Clegg not only failed to deliver on this promise – tuition in most institutions has now surpassed £9000 a year, and is set to go up yet again.
I was one of the lucky ones who pipped the post before the increase, and my tuition was just £1820 a year.
In response to this, in 2010 thousands of students all over the country took to the streets, protesting the move, chanting ‘No ifs, no buts, no education cuts!’, and ‘Nick Clegg, shame on you, shame on you for turning blue!’ I was there, in the middle of it all, sitting with my friend Laisum in the canteen of the Leeds College of Art’s Blenheim Walk building. She was drawing my lips, and I was talking to her as I glanced out of the window at the passing students with their placards, accompanied by horse-back riding policemen. When we went into our lecture, about two thirds of our classmates were missing – the lecturer wanted names of all the people protesting so that he could mark them as ‘present’ for attendance purposes (to stop them missing out on their Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).
Scottish universities, too, increased the tuition, but only for English and Welsh students – higher education for Scottish students, to this day, remains free (however, there has been some debate as to whether the European Union should allow the Scottish government to discriminate in this way). I was one of the lucky ones who pipped the post before the increase, and my tuition was just £1,820 a year, walking away with my bachelor’s degree, and substantially less student debt than my younger sister (who had to pay £9,000 per year).
As I glance over at a letter I received the other day from the Student Loans Company telling me that I have incurred £600 interest on my loans, it still feels a little bit unfair.
However, as this (somewhat condescending) video explains, the amount that you have to be earning before you pay the loans back has also increased from £15,000 (now around £17,000) for me, to £21,000 for my higher fee paying sister. On the face of it, I think this looks like a good thing – unless you start to earn a professional salary, you don’t have to pay back a thing! But when you consider that, to go along with this hike, the coalition cut education funding, it starts to look a little grim.
I have to ask whether this is really sustainable. Still, at least this is undeniably a far better deal for students than the system that they have in the US – where students have to pay back loans, no matter how much they make. However, as I glance over at a letter I received the other day from the Student Loans Company telling me that I have incurred £600 interest on my loans, it still feels a little bit unfair that my mother’s generation didn’t have to pay a penny.