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‘Cut student interest rates’ say MPs

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    studentsImage copyright Alamy
    Image caption The level of fees and debt for students is going to be the subject of a major review

    There is no justification for such “high interest rates” on student loans, says a committee of MPs.

    The Treasury Select Committee says it is unconvinced by “questionable” claims in support of charging up to 6.1% on loans that cover fees and living costs.

    The report comes as the government prepares to unveil its review of university funding in England.

    Committee chairwoman Nicky Morgan says the return of maintenance loans could also help to “remove barriers”.

    Prime Minister Theresa May and Education Secretary Damian Hinds are about to launch a review which will consider cutting or freezing £9,250 tuition fees and lowering interest rates to reduce levels of graduate debt.

    There will also be discussion of funding for vocational courses and apprenticeships to tackle skills shortages.

    Living costs

    The Treasury select committee report recommends that the review should reconsider the level of interest rates and whether these charges should be applied when students are still studying.

    The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that students in England will run up more than £5,000 in interest charges before they have even left university.

    Former Conservative and Labour education ministers, Justine Greening, Lord Willetts, Lord Adonis and Charles Clarke, have all raised concerns about the level of interest charges.

    Image copyright PA
    Image caption Nicky Morgan says there is no convincing reason for such high interest charges on loans for fees

    There is also a call to consider reinstating maintenance grants for disadvantaged students, after these were abolished last year.

    Mrs Morgan, a former education secretary, warned that the maintenance loans available to students were not enough to cover all their living costs.

    “If a student can’t access additional sources of income, they may be priced out of university,” said the committee chairman.

    The MPs are also asking for a clearer explanation of why such a high level of tuition fee is necessary.

    Higher subsidies

    The current education secretary, Damian Hinds, has said the benefit of a degree to the wider economy – and how much it costs – should be part of the review of university funding in England.

    In an interview with the SUNDAY TIMES, Mr Hinds suggests that higher government subsidies could be provided for more expensive courses such as engineering and other sciences

    The review of fees, first promised in the autumn by the prime minister, will examine whether students are paying a fair amount, whether it is the most efficient way of funding universities and whether students are getting value for money when they are graduating with an average of £50,000 in debt.

    Part-time numbers down

    It will also consider the funding of the broader post-18 education system and whether students not on three-year degree courses are getting enough support.

    Part-time student numbers fell sharply after the last fees increase – and the Treasury Select Committee has called on the review to find ways to reverse this.

    Peter Horrocks, vice-chancellor of the Open University, said the committee of MPs “rightly recognised that part-time students have been the real victims of the 2012 reforms”.

    “The collapse in part-time student numbers in England is undermining attempts to tackle the skills crisis in the economy,” said Mr Horrocks.

    A spokesman for the Department for Education said the “major review” would examine “funding across tertiary education to ensure a joined-up system that works for everyone”.

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