The student loan sell-off is reviving the student movement

By 2015, the coalition will have landed another right hook on the collective jawbone of students and graduates with the planned privatisation of student debt.

Calum McGregor is communications officer for Nottingham Young Greens

By 2015, the coalition will have landed another right hook on the collective jawbone of students and graduates with the planned privatisation of student debt.

The controversial plans could see the loans taken out by students for their tuition packaged up and sold off to the highest bidder. It’s a privatisation that will further erode the concept of the university as a public service, reduce access to education and impact already struggling students and graduates.

The first tranche of loans (pre-1998) have already been auctioned off, and the rest will quickly follow – unless students make it clear that this is not acceptable.

The government has set itself upon shedding £20bn of state assets, including the student loan book. However, in order to achieve the highest price and to be profitable for the buyers, financial sweeteners will have to be offered – in the case of student loans, most likely by an increase in the cap on interest rates.

Students will be forced to pay more, and for longer, to repay their student debt. This amounts to a retrospective tuition fee hike.

The planned debt sell-off will also undermine the confidence in the student loan system. Many young people have been convinced to begin their working life in the shadow of thousands of pounds of debt with the promise of low repayments and favourable terms.

What’s to say the new owners will honour these conditions?

The government’s empty assurances that interest rates will not be increased are meaningless, and somewhat reminiscent of a certain Lib Dem promise on tuition fees.

They are also non-binding to future governments: the door will already have been opened to interest rate rises. Debt has already played a role in deterring those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds from applying to university, and the inevitable changes in terms and conditions that will come with this sale will do so even further.

This move will only benefit shadowy investment funds and debt collection agencies, with young people, as usual, sacrificed for profits.

These plans affect current students, graduates and future students alike. So from Durham to Bristol this week, students are petitioning, occupying and marching in a range of creative and visual actions against the student debt sell-off.

This national week of action, from 3 – 7 February, is coordinated by the Student Assembly Against Austerity, with the backing of the Young Greens (the youth branch of the Green Party), and aims to build a powerful student movement to oppose this attempt to further turn education into a cash cow for private firms.

These are just the green shoots of a resurgent student body ready to build opposition to a burden of debt that is spiralling out of control.

The fight is most definitely on. Actions are planned on 50 campuses nationwide, with ‘debt-ins’, banner drops and ‘debt obstacle courses’ to demonstrate that students will not be willingly subjected to further increases in the price of their education.

On my own campus at the University of Nottingham, activists have been collecting signatures to a mass petition demanding vice-chancellor Prof. David Greenaway publicly oppose these plans to further commodify our education.

There is still time to organise events near you, and to lobby your MP to sign the Early Day Motion condemning the sale. Even if you’re not a student or graduate, your vocal support is just as vital in forcing the government to back down.

The student movement has a real opportunity to revive itself, to organise, raise awareness and exercise the right to protest against these dangerous plans. Now is the time to act to secure a future free of the prospect of ever increasing debt. Once the loans have been sold, there may be no going back.

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