‘Don’t make the student debt nightmare worse!’

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UCU college lecturers on the picket line at Lambeth College in Brixton last week

‘DON’T make the £141bn student debt nightmare worse,’ the University and College Union (UCU) warned yesterday ahead of a government spending review.

University staff have demanded plans to hit more students with loan repayments to be halted.

In a letter to new Tory Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi, the University and College Union (UCU) says any move to lower the salary threshold at which students repay would be ‘regressive’ and would risk putting off ‘less privileged students’ from entering higher education.

Reportedly, the Treasury wants to lower the salary threshold to reduce its exposure to the £141bn of student debt.

The Augar review, a government commissioned review of post-18 education in England, recommended a decrease to £23,000.

Loans are currently written off after 30 years with only 12% of graduates expected to repay them in full. Those who started university in England in or after October 2012 have an interest rate of 4.1% applied to their loans, higher than most mortgages.

In its letter, the union also criticised the Westminster government’s 50% cut to the high-cost grant funding for creative arts subjects, saying the ‘short-sighted’ decision must be reversed.

UCU is balloting staff at over 150 universities across the UK on cuts to pensions, pay and attacks on working conditions. The union is now urging Zahawi to step in, and get university employers to meet UCU so they can resolve the dispute.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘As Secretary of State for Education, Mr Zahawi must be a voice for students in England and take on colleagues in government who want to worsen the student debt nightmare.

‘If the government pushes through regressive student loan changes, graduates on some of the lowest salary bands will see their pay packets hit. This is a tax on education and aspiration.

‘Our members are balloting for industrial action to fight back against a university system which fails students and graduates, leaving them with shocking levels of debt, and staff with declining pay, pension cuts and insecure contracts. Mr Zahawi should urge university bosses to meet with us and negotiate in good faith over these issues that have been ignored for so long.’