Opening ‘The Guardian’ back in 2010 and seeing that university fees were being tripled to a healthy £9000 a year, that indeed the Liberal Democrats had not fulfilled their promise, is something I will never forget. An election campaign based on ‘legitimate’ support for student welfare had brought Mr. Clegg and co. huge support. Support from me as well, I might add.
But looking back, having completed almost two years of a university course, and having resigned myself to the inevitable debt rate which would soon follow, the £9000 student fees are not the biggest problem we students face.
Labour’s recent commitment to a reduction in fees to £6000 does not interest me. Partly because I am reluctant to believe it could take place, but more importantly because the low maintenance loans provided to students are the more problematic and pressing issue.
The university fee of £9000 does not even touch the student account. The fact that it goes straight from the loans company to the university means we do not associate ourselves with it. Effectively we have the money to pay for university at our disposal. The payback system is also incredible, from the student’s point of view, in that we pay a small 9% of our salary towards the loan we took out, and that is only after our salary goes beyond the threshold of £21000. So as painful as it is to take out a loan of so much money, it does not affect the student in a particularly direct way. Or at least not immediately.
The idea of a maintenance loan is quite simply to limit the immediate financial burden of a degree. So we are talking accommodation, food, heating, maybe even books (the cost of which are a huge burden for students). A maintenance loan would sustain a student’s fundamental and bare essentials so that a large focus could be laced on the studies. Again, this is in the immediate interest of our esteemed government, to support a country in the future we need good graduates ad for that we need studies to be a big focus.
I guess you could say that’s as easy as ABC.
The problem is, however that a paltry £3000 annual maintenance loan does not even begin to cover the essentials of university life. In fact it barely, if at all, covers accommodation rent for the year, meaning alternative sources of income are needed to provide the other essentials to a student.
We are here talking about of course food and heating, the bare essentials, you might say. We are here talking about required elements of a student life. A student is thus faced with a choice. The selected solutions swing variably between a job, a payday loan or a lack of education.
To reject the third as absent is to disregard students who feel they legitimately cannot afford a degree and that to stay out of education would be a better solution than to attempt to scrounge up money from wherever possible.
Students are more likely to take out a payday loan, purely for the reason that they cannot fully support themselves while at university. A total of 46,000 students took out a payday loan last year, more than 2 per cent of all undergraduates in the UK.
A payday loan also means that more debt is piled on the already astronomical debt a student will receive through the student and maintenance loans.
The minuteness of the maintenance loans is the overarching problem with the university system. For many, it means they have to take up a job or a payday loan. To be compelled to do either means the student experience is compressed and limited before it has even begun.
UK government plans to counter the growth of extremism on university campuses have been met with fierce criticism.
The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, discussed at the House of Lords last Tuesday, grants the Home Secretary new powers to expel “extremists” from university locations.
Speaking in London following the draft of the Bill, Home Secretary Theresa May said students should be reported to the police if there are “concerns of [them] being drawn into extremism or terrorism”.
She also suggested that universities should not give a platform to “extremist” students.
Members of the Joint Committee for Human Rights (JCHR) said the plans could breach academic freedom of speech, with Hywel Francis, JCHR chairman, saying the plans had “not been well thought-through”.
Eve Livingston, Vice President Societies and Activities (VPSA) at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA), expressed concerns to The Student that “a focus on anti-extremism […] often manifests as nothing more than racial profiling”.
She warned that it could affect “students who are already some of our most marginalised and vulnerable”.
At a session of the House of Lords, Lord Lloyd of Benwick said that the suggested powers “would do absolutely nothing in practice to make us any safer”.
In an interview with The Student, Baroness Hamwee, member of the JCHR and peer in the House of Lords said she found defining the blanket terms “extremism” and “extremism leading to terrorism” problematic.
She also said that she would not put “Prevent[ion] on a statutory footing, but to leave the matter on a voluntary basis” at universities.
Concerns were raised by the JCHR that the Bill would infringe on freedom of speech. Dr. Francis said in an interview with The Independent that it could result in “academic freedom and freedom of speech, […] both key to the functioning of a democratic society, being restricted”.
Members of the JCHR also said that the powers called for in the Bill could be used in other fields of police operations, a concern with historical precedent.
For instance, in 2005, a student at the University of Cambridge secretly filmed a police officer asking him to spy on political societies at the university. These included the “Unite Against Fascism” group, as well as groups such as the English Defense League.
The government plans also suggest the creation of a new, 300-man anti-terrorism force.
The plans were announced in response to the terror attacks in Paris against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket.
After the attacks, Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama promised to “confront” terrorism “wherever it appears”.
Speaking to Stroud News and Journal, Andrew Parker, director of intelligence agency MI5, said more “mass casualty attacks” were being planned against the West.