James Laughlin is a 22-year-old student studying Law with European Legal Systems at the University of East Anglia in Norwich and the Humboldt Universität in Berlin. He writes regularly at www.jameslaughlin.net.
Ever since the introduction of top-up fees by the last Labour government in 2006, no single issue has caused so much consternation amongst the students of the UK. Protesting against tuition fees takes up large amounts of Student Union time and resources and their abolition has been a cornerstone of Liberal Democrat policy.
Introduced in 2006, they were aimed at allowing universities across England and Wales to charge students an amount much closer to the actual costs involved in delivering a course. Prior to this, students were expected to pay anything up to around £1,500 a year for their courses (means-tested according to family income). This sum was expected to be paid to the university up-front by the student. Because of the fact that it was means-tested, there was no financial support available for this fee.
With the introduction of the £3,000+ fees, the Student Loans Company incorporated a Tuition Fee Loan into their usual offerings; enabling students to study without having to worry about paying the fees up front. The idea was that this money would be added to the rest of the loan, which would then be paid off at a favourable rate (9% of gross income above £15,000) once the student was earning over £15,000. i.e. If a student with such a loan earns £16,000 a year their payments on the loan will total just £90 a year.
Pretty reasonable, eh? The students get to pay for a service at or below cost-price with a low-interest loan, and then get to pay it back when they can afford to do so.
Not according to the NUS and the Liberal Democrats. They would have you believe that every graduating university student is completely and utterly crippled with debt, which will ruin the quality of their life for years to come and will leave them wishing that they'd never gone to university in the first place.