Apathetic learners won't rock the boat

May 25, 2001

Voters have returned a Conservative member of parliament for Guildford since 1832, but could students hold the key to a possible swing to the Liberal Democrats on June 7?

Conservative Nick St Aubyn won a slender majority of just 4,791 last time round, but the Liberal Democrats believe that higher education might be a decisive campaign issue.

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats agree that students are worse off under Labour, but their prescriptions are markedly different.

Mr St Aubyn, who is a member of the education select committee, said: "We are committed to raising the threshold for the repayment of student debt from £10,000 to £20,000, giving a powerful signal that we believe in the participation of people from less well-off homes.

"We also need radical reform to get private-sector management into student loans so that instead of being a drain on public resources, they are run efficiently."

Liberal Democrat candidate Sue Doughty countered: "We would raise the threshold at which graduates repay loans (set initially at £13,000 in the manifesto). But we would not go along with the Conservatives because in a lot of professions people might go into, it could be years before they earn £20,000 and they would be accumulating debt for years."

Patrick Dowling, vice-chancellor of Surrey University, said: "Student finance, and debt in particular, is an important issue for those coming from poor areas."

But whether students in Guildford see their financial positions as an election issue is another matter. Students at the University of Surrey have displayed a certain apathy towards elections - just 1,300 out of 9,000 voted in the last student union elections.

  Election 2001 index page

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