UNISON slates government plans for English university education

Union warns that increasing the length of time graduates will have to pay back loans will disproportionately affect lower earners and those from disadvantaged backgrounds

UNISON has warned that government plans for higher education, unveiled today, set out a worrying picture for those wanting to enter higher education and those working in it.

Students in England will have to pay back university loans over 40 years rather than 30, in a move that is designed to save the Treasury billions of pounds.

The proposals will see graduates needing to start to pay back their loans when they reach a lower income threshold of £25,000. This change will have the greatest impact on lower and middle earners and the least impact on the wealthiest.

UNISON senior national officer Ruth Levin said that the union believes that education should be free and a right for all, while higher education “should not just be the preserve of those who are lucky enough to have parents who can bankroll students through university”.

Graduates will now have student debt until they near retirement. The extended repayment period means that those entering higher education in their teens will be paying for their degree well into their sixties.

“Today’s announcement goes nowhere in terms of addressing the serious issues that this country faces in terms of the desperately needed investment in higher – and all post-18 – education,” said Ms Levin.

“These plans will have the most detrimental impact on lower and middle earners and do nothing to improve the overall funding situation facing higher education institutions.”

The UK government is also launching a consultation today, seeking views on proposals to introduce minimum standards to be able to access student loans – either requiring students to have a grade four pass in GCSE English and maths or two E grades at A’ level – and reducing student numbers by cutting what it calls poor-quality, low-cost courses.

Ms Levin said: “We are seriously concerned about the consultation to seek to reduce access to higher education by requiring certain grades in maths and English.

“Again, this will have the most serious impact on those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Instead of raising aspirations, these plans seek to crush aspiration. We know that this will have a disproportionate impact on lower income and Black young people as well as, potentially, mature students.”

A second consultation will consider plans for a lifelong loan entitlement for the equivalent of four years of post-18 education to help students study at any age through modular courses.

Ms Levin said that UNISON will be engaging with both consultations and will be calling for an education system that values its staff, supports its students and invests in all educational institutions.