Medical students will be left almost £70,000 in debt under government plans to allow universities to charge up to £9,000 in tuition fees, the British Medical Association (BMA) warned on Wednesday.
Proposals to reform higher education funding were announced on Wednesday by the Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts MP, in response to the recent review by Lord Browne.
Karin Purshouse, Chair of the BMA’s Medical Students Committee, said: ‘The government’s proposal to potentially treble tuition fees will have a devastating financial impact on thousands of talented young people from low and middle income backgrounds who want to become the doctors of tomorrow.
‘Medical students are already leaving university with high debt levels that leaves many dependent on an estimated £16,000 in support from their families over the course of their expensive five-year degree.
‘The BMA estimates that if universities charge the £9,000 rate allowed under these plans, students will see their debts increase to around £70,000.
‘This figure only includes debts incurred from student loans and does not take into account overdrafts, credit cards and professional loans which many students depend on for additional support.
‘This will be an enormous financial burden for hard-working families.
‘The government is right to recognise the importance of widening access to medicine in its announcement, but its plans will be crippled if it does not address the debt implications of studying degrees like medicine.
‘The BMA will be fighting these fee proposals vigorously in the coming months.
‘We will also ask that politicians examine Lord Browne’s suggestion that expensive courses such as medicine be given special consideration, including exploration of forgivable loans and other measures.’
The BMA will be supporting the National Union of Students rally on Wednesday 10th November, and encouraging its members to attend.
Professor Michael Rees, Co-Chair of the BMA’s Medical Academic and Staff Committee said: ‘It is important that the higher education system is given a stable platform so that it can continue to be at the forefront of international research and, in the case of medicine, train the next generation of doctors.
‘The debt implications of today’s announcement are alarming.
‘It is especially worrying for students, primarily from low income families, who take a graduate entry course into medicine that involves them completing a foundation programme and then another degree before starting medicine.
‘This can take up to eight years, but is a key access route for those from disadvantaged backgrounds into the profession.
‘We also need to establish a system where there is a transparent relationship between the fees paid and the investment in medical education, so that students can clearly see the benefits from undertaking their degree.’
The University and College Union (UCU) slammed the government move as a ‘stealth tax on aspiration and learning’.
It said: ‘Graduates who earn the national average salary will be hit with tax bills almost 20 per cent higher than non-graduates if new plans to fund universities are implemented, warns new research published today (Wednesday).
‘Analysis by the University and College Union revealed that a graduate earning the national average salary of £31,916 would have a 19.3 per cent higher tax bill than work colleagues who had not been to university, for the duration of student loan repayments.’
The union said the government would be introducing a stealth tax on learning and aspiration through controversial plans to shift the cost of university tuition from the state to the student.
It warned: ‘Tomorrow’s teachers, scientists and doctors could see their tax bills increase by a quarter, while they repay their student loan debts.’
The union analysed the impact of a nine per cent repayment through tax on earnings over £21,000, as proposed by the coalition government.
Students who leave university and earn the average graduate starting salary (£25,000) would see their tax bill increase by almost ten per cent.
‘School teachers would see their tax bill rise by a quarter (23.5 per cent) and graduates who go on to become university lecturers would see an increase of 27 per cent. Police inspectors would see their tax contribution upped by more than a quarter (25.5 per cent) and doctors would face a similar hit (24.1 per cent).’
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘The coalition is introducing a learning tax that will saddle the next generation of professionals with years of lost revenue.
‘The message this sends is that in the UK we now penalise aspiration rather than encourage it.
‘Mums and dads who just want their children to have better opportunities than they did will see this for what it is – a stealth tax on learning and aspiration.
‘George Osborne started his spending review by saying that he did not wish to saddle children with debts the government was not willing to pay.
‘That is just utter nonsense when put against his government’s plans for university funding.
‘Future students will be saddled with record levels of debts and it doesn’t matter how they are dressed up, they still need to be paid off.’
The National Union of Students (NUS) said that the kike in fees was ‘an unprecedented ideological move’ that will push all of the costs of higher education onto the shoulders of students who already face much of the financial consequence of the economic downturn.
Aaron Porter, NUS President, said: ‘These proposals would remove public funding for universities and force students to shoulder the bill for devastating cuts to teaching.
‘The only things that students and their families could expect in return for higher fees are higher debts.’
National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower said: ‘The cutbacks to university funding announced in the spending review show that yet again the coalition government’s argument that the “broadest shoulders” will carry the burden is a complete fallacy.
‘Raising tuition fees up to £9,000 to compensate for the lack of funding will create further social divisions in society and set us back decades to a time when university education was available only to the well off.
‘There are very few working class families that will countenance incurring such huge debt.
‘Despite having invested the same time and commitment to their studies, students from poorer backgrounds will be saddled with repaying more than they borrowed for the next 30 years while wealthy students could have the whole debt paid off immediately.
‘This is not a level playing field by any stretch of the imagination and will act as a further deterrent to many entering higher education.
‘It’s quite clear that our elite universities are by no means inclusive now and the whole package of measures from the comprehensive spending review, which will hit the poorest hardest in conjunction with these fee proposals, will do nothing to change that.
‘There will need to be a great deal of soul-searching by MPs before the debate and vote on this issue in the House of Commons, particularly amongst the Liberal Democrats who campaigned so vigorously against a rise in tuition fees.’
Unison General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said: ‘The government is gambling with our world-class university system and asking our children, and the country’s future, to pay the price.
‘It is trying to hide its vandalism by pretending to support the poorest students, whilst loading the rest with huge debts.
‘Combined with the withdrawal of funding for arts and humanities, the new proposals will lead to a narrower and impoverished higher education system.
‘The Lib Dem MPs who proudly stood up and acclaimed their opposition to increasing university fees to get elected, need to search their consciences and decide if their politics are based on principles, or can be so easily traded in for power.’