Consultation on freezing the student loan repayment threshold

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1 Consultation on freezing the student loan repayment threshold RESPONSE FORM The Department may, in accordance with the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, make available, on public request, individual responses. The closing date for this consultation is 14 October 2015 Your Details Organisation (if applicable): Oxford University Student Union Address: 2 Worcester Street, Oxford, OX1 2BX Please return completed forms to: Alaster Smith Higher Educational Student Funding 1 Victoria Street London SW1H 0ET Fax: Please tick the box below that best describes you as a respondent to this consultation. Business representative organisation/trade body Central government Charity or social enterprise Individual Large business (over 250 staff) Legal representative Local Government Medium business (50 to 250 staff)

2 Micro business (up to 9 staff) Small business (10 to 49 staff) x Trade union or staff association (Students Union)

3 Question 1: Please could you provide your views, stating reasons and providing supporting evidence, on; Keeping the threshold of 21,000 the same for all post-2012 borrowers until April 2021 We believe a retrospective change to the terms of loan repayment is highly unfair, and sets a very dangerous precedent in the relationship between Government and citizens. Seeing the student loan book as a potential source of debt reduction to help meet the current fiscal pressures is a misnomer, and as highlighted in the response by the National Union of Students, will contribute to the feeling of disconnect between young people and national politics. This is especially true in the light of concurrent Government decisions and considerations, including the planned move to allow institutions to raise tuition fees, and the decision to replace maintenance grants with loans. A survey conducted by OUSU of students at the University of Oxford on our bursary package highlighted that debt aversion was a major concern not only before applying, but also in terms of causing more stress while on-course. The Government s current intentions with Option 1 only accentuate these concerns, and make us worried about the access implications for incoming students who see the Government s willingness to use the student loan book in such a way. This is especially important given the fairly minor contribution this move would actually have in terms of debt reduction, as highlighted in the IFS s impact report. The evidence from the Sutton Trust, along with data from HESA [see the response from the National Union of Students], demonstrates further concerns we have about the impact this will have on specific groups, including women and black & minority ethnic (BME) students. Their evidence demonstrates that the salaries of these groups will make these students disproportionately affected by these changes. This is mirrored by DLHE data for students at the University of Oxford, which shows a consistent gender gap in starting salaries. We believe it to be entirely inappropriate to target debt reduction measures on lower and medium earners, and against basic principles of equality. For borrowers starting in September 2016 (and subsequent intakes), from April 2020 keeping the threshold at the same level as existing borrowers for a further five years While this eliminates the concern over retrospective hikes, this does not alleviate any of our concerns over the access implications of debt aversion, the use of the student loan book as an inappropriate method of debt recovery, or the equality implications of Option 1. As demonstrated in our own data collection, mentioned above, debt aversion is a major concern for current students at the University. At a University that works hard to overcome applicant concerns over the cost of higher education, increasing the burden on graduates will only increase these concerns. We believe the above points regarding graduate salaries among women and BME students remain if Option 2 were chosen.

4 Allowing the threshold to rise by earnings We see Option 3 as the only option that is fair on both current and prospective students, for the reasons outlined above. Where debt aversion is a considerable concern for applicants, linking loan repayment to salaries as salaries increase with inflation is the only viable option to make the system even vaguely progressive. Question 2: What risks and impacts do you think that holding the threshold at the same level for five years would have for; a. Current students/ borrowers? Given concerns expressed by graduates in the recent NUS Debt in the first degree report, we believe that adding further burden onto current students and borrowers will only increase worries about growing debt. Our own data demonstrated that worries about debt because of the increase in student loan amounts led to stress for on-course students. Knowing that the Government has increased the amount that will be repaid on a monthly basis can do nothing but increase these levels of stress, which leads to serious problems for on-course students. This may also act as a barrier to postgraduate study, based on the findings of the University of Oxford in their pilot to the HEFCE Postgraduate Support Scheme. As per our point above, we share the National Union of Students worry about the perception of politics among young people where the Government retrospectively changes terms in this way. b. Prospective students/new borrowers? Once again, debt aversion is a concern for many prospective students. This move will only work to heighten that, questioning the potential for social mobility through higher education. We are deeply concerned about the access implications of moves such as this, and the potential for future similar moves. c. Employers of borrowers with loans? No specific comments.

5 d. The Student Loans Company (SLC) and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)? We see no particular impact. e. Learning Providers? We are concerned that universities already (and often incorrectly) perceived as more expensive, such as the University of Oxford, cannot benefit from moves that increase the post-graduation cost of higher education. The cost of attending Oxford is a constant myth that both the University and we as a Student Union fight each year; this would only hinder our attempts to demonstrate that higher education at Oxford is a worthwhile endeavour for students from all backgrounds. f. The Tax-payer? We believe that the taxpayer benefits from educating young people. As it is demonstrated that higher education provides people with both skills and an increased salary, any move that discourages people from entering higher education will have profound implications and any short-term gain from this proposed change would fail to have any long-term net gain. Questions 3: Can you identify any equality issues introduced by these possible changes? We reiterate the issues raised about women and BME students, as per data from DLHE and the Sutton Trust report. Question 4: Do you think the Government could mitigate the impact of the proposed change on borrowers? Yes No x Not sure

6 If so, what do you consider those actions might be? (Please indicate all that you consider to be relevant) Do you have any other comments that might aid the consultation process as a whole? Please use this space for any general comments that you may have, comments on the layout of this consultation would also be welcomed. We remain deeply concerned about the current approach to students in higher education, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. Higher education is crucial for skills development for the next generation, and we hope that this current approach changes in the near future. Thank you for taking the time to let us have your views. We do not intend to acknowledge receipt of individual responses unless you tick the box below. Please acknowledge this reply At BIS we carry out our research on many different topics and consultations. As your views are valuable to us, would it be okay if we were to contact you again from time to time either for research or to send through consultation documents? Yes No BIS/15/445/RF

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