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Mary Leishman

undergraduate education
m.leishman@uea.ac.uk

Tuition fees freeze – what does it actually mean for students?

If you've been keeping up with the news, you'll have heard all about the Conservative Party Conference. Amongst the protests, P45's and political plots, a key bit of news about student loans might've slipped your attention.

At the conference, Theresa May announced several upcoming changes to tuition fees. Currently fees are capped at £9,250 a year. Its been announced that this cap won't move and fees won't rise with inflation as expected. In addition, graduates won't have to start repaying their loan until they earn £25,000 a year – currently this figure is at £21,000.

At uea(su), we're firmly against the marketisation of education. In 2016, Union Council resolved to call for a free, publicly funded education system for all and fight any proposed fee rises. This announcement therefore seems positive on the surface, as fees rising above the already extortionate rate is the last thing we'd want to see.

Raising the payback threshold is also good news for graduates, who could typically save up to £15,700 in the 30 years before their loan is written off. However, it should be remembered that when the current system was introduced in 2012, the £21,000 payback threshold was intended to be raised every year anyway to account for inflation. This just hasn't happened so far in order to save the government money.

The reality is that this change won't actually make any difference to students day-to-day lives at the moment. If the government wanted to make a tangible difference and improve student's lives, the £250 a year theoretically 'saved' by students in fee rises could've been given in maintenance grants and therefore gone directly into student's pockets. This fee change isn't going to alleviate the money worries of students who are financially struggling on a daily basis. At uea(su) we know finances are a big concern for students and we're working to reduce costs on campus by expanding our value range.

The 'fee freeze' that will be introduced will also affect University finances – as they've accounted for fees rising every year and financially planned accordingly. We're concerned this may result in costs cut from the student experience and will work to make sure that this doesn't happen.

Tuition fees are a point of high political contention, and this change is an underwhelming gimmick that is designed to woo younger voters and isn't really going to change much. In addition, we don't actually know if these changes are even going to happen – or if, in a couple of years it will all change again. In the five years since the new system was introduced, we've seen a number of changes to interest rates and repayment terms. You wouldn't take out any other loan without knowing how much and when you had to repay it, and it's completely unreasonable that student's are expected to submit themselves to a lender that constantly changes their terms in order to get an education.

Overall, it's important to remember these plans are only a proposal and it remains to be seen if they'll be implemented. While the threshold raise is welcome for graduates, these plans don't go nearly far enough to help students studying now.

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