Last Sunday saw Business Secretary Vince Cable announce that he and Deputy Prime minister Nick Clegg no longer support the privatisation of student debt. The sale of the student loan book was projected to bring £2.3 billion into the Treasury between 2015 and 2020.
In the run up to the 2015 election, Cherwell sought to find out students’ thoughts on the issue. In a survey of 75 Oxford students, Cherwell asked participants about their awareness of the government’s plans, their views on the plans, and the importance of the ownership of student debt.
Results showed that only 10.7% of those asked were in favour of selling off the debt, with 89.3% against. This was despite the fact that only 58.7% of particpants admitted to knowing about the government’s plans.
81.3% of Oxford students subsequently claimed that ownership of the student debt was an important issue for them.
Despite not attracting the same amount of attention as the trebling of tuition fees, the proposals have nonetheless met significant opposition from some students. James Elliott, who successfully proposed a motion to oppose the sale of the student loan book at OUSU Council in Hilary term, told Cherwell upon hearing the news that, “This policy change hasn’t come around because Vince Cable is a nice bloke. Students secured this win because we organised and fought, even occupying Cable’s constituency office. In Oxford, I was elected to the NUS on a platform of stopping this and our motion there was a small part of building against it. It is a nice reminder that protest and organising works. Next we need to fight to abolish fees, cuts and debt in education.”
Nevertheless, a significant minority of students were unaware of the sale. Harry Bush, a first year chemist at Merton, commented, “Being perfectly honest, I had no idea of the government’s plans to sell off student loans. However, to me, changing their minds so often seems like another concrete case of the coalition crumbling. The important thing to me is that the students that require the money are getting it, and as long as that is at the forefront of the reversal of the decision then so be it.”
OUSU Vice President for Academic Affairs James Blythe shared his views in the light of the Liberal Democrat leadership’s announcement:
Selling the loan book would be an access nightmare, creating fear among applicants about increasing interest rates. Good decision, Vince!
— James Blythe (@OUSU_AcAff) July 21, 2014
Theodora Dickinson, Chair of Oxford and Abingdon Conservative Future, spoke otherwise about the decision though, telling Cherwell, “Vince Cable has once again proved that the Liberal Democrats are incapable of sticking to a single policy, and are incapable of being trusted. This is clearly a calculated move to attempt to regain the student vote lost after Nick Clegg’s broken promise on tuition fees, and I hope that students see it as such. The taxpayer is currently losing forty percent of money lent through the scheme, so it is clearly imperative that something changes. The Conservative Party remains committed to cutting taxes, and therefore oppose Labour’s proposed Graduate Tax, a policy which would in effect act retroactively on existing debtors.”
Cable announced that his party no longer supported the sale of student loan debt, on the basis that it would not be effective in reducing government debt, at the Social Liberal Forum, an internal pressure group within the Liberal Democrats.
The party had initially supported the sale as part of a wider programme of privatising state assets, including Royal Mail, in order to increase government income. Their Conservative coalition partners have yet to publically comment on the matter, suggesting that they continue to support the sale.