BIRMINGHAM students have occupied their university, pre-empting yesterday’s announcement that Student Loans are to be sold off by the Tory coalition government to private debt collectors.
The Tory coalition government announced to the London Stock Exchange yesterday that they have agreed a deal to privatise a £900m portfolio of loans made to students who were enrolled at universities during the 1990s.
£900m is a fraction of the debts’ face value, giving ‘debt recovery specialists’ a deal they cannot refuse.
Fears are mounting that the private debt collectors will use the same notorious methods to recover students’ debts as other debts, ie bailiffs.
At least 30 Birmingham students barricaded themselves inside the university’s senate chamber last Wednesday evening in protest at the privatisation of student loans, and are continuing their occupation today.
On Friday, the university management served two students, Simon Furse and Hattie Craig, with an injunction threatening to fine them thousands of pounds for legal costs and the extra costs of university security.
The injunction threatens to break up the occupation and ban protest on campus for 12 months; however, students rallied outside the occupied building over the weekend in defiance of the management’s stance.
The two students were in court yesterday. During the recess Hattie Craig told News Line: ‘I am currently in court because there is an application for a possession order to remove the occupation and to prevent any “occupational protest action” on campus for the next twelve months.
‘In the original application the university management said that two named students would be liable for costs, the potential costs run into thousands.
‘One of the demands of the occupation is that our Vice Chancellor must speak out against the privatisation of student loans.
‘But there are a whole number of other issues, like the right to protest and the pay and conditions of University staff.
‘The occupiers have refused to leave the occupation until the university management go into negotiations to address their demands.
‘The privatisation of student loans is putting them into the hands of private loan companies who could change the rates of repayments, meaning students will have to pay back more than they signed up for.’
Meanwhile in response to the student debt sell-off, Toni Pearce, President of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: ‘This announcement is extremely concerning and is one that will see the public subsidising a private company making a profit from public debt, which is incredibly problematic.
‘The impact of this sale won’t only affect borrowers, but will affect everybody.
‘The simple fact is that having these loans on the public books would be better off for the Government in the long run.
‘Selling off the loan book at a discount to secure a cash lump sum now doesn’t make economic sense.
She added: ‘The current student loans system is completely unsustainable. Forcing debt onto students as a way of funding universities is an experiment that has proven not to work and there needs to be some serious thought about moving the system away from this ridiculous model.’