Sell-off should not change loan book conditions, says NUS head

Toni Pearce confident BIS negotiations will pay dividends for students

September 19, 2013

The government may soon guarantee that graduates will not pay more if the student loan book is sold to private buyers.

That is the belief of Toni Pearce, president of the National Union of Students. The NUS leader, who succeeded Liam Burns at the end of June, said that the union was seeking to ensure that current student loan terms and conditions “are written into legislation, particularly if the student loan book is to be sold off”.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Ms Pearce said that she had recently met with David Willetts, the universities and science minister, to press the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills over what will happen to the terms and conditions for graduates if the pre-2012 and post-2012 loan books are sold off.

A report prepared for the government by Rothschild investment bank and submitted in November 2011 looked at the option of asking existing borrowers with pre-2012 loans to repay more so as to make the loans more attractive to private buyers.

Ms Pearce said that the NUS was “waiting on a letter from David Willetts outlining BIS’ views” on previous sales of the loan book and on the possible forthcoming sale of pre-2012 loans (those taken out before fees were trebled to £9,000 a year).

“The commitment we’ve had from both Vince Cable [the business secretary] and David Willetts is that they won’t be changing terms and conditions,” she said.

Ms Pearce added that she was “really hopeful we get that in writing and get some real clarity”.

On the next general election, Ms Pearce struck a slightly different note from Mr Burns, who had talked about the NUS unseating Lib Dem MPs (including leader Nick Clegg) who broke the party’s pledge to oppose any rise in tuition fees.

“We need to do what’s in students’ best interests,” Ms Pearce said.

She continued: “If Lib Dem MPs broke the pledge and think they can get away with it, then they are seriously mistaken.”

However, while she stressed that it was right to remind voters that many Lib Dem MPs had broken their promises, she appeared to leave the door open to the Labour Party rather than the NUS to lead the fight on the issue.

“Whether or not it needs to be the NUS reminding them is yet to be decided,” Ms Pearce said.

Labour MPs have portrayed the coalition government’s transparency of lobbying, non-party campaigning and trade union administration bill – which would set a £390,000 cap on the amount any organisation, including unions and charities, can spend across the UK during elections – as an effort by the Lib Dems to gag the NUS.

Ms Pearce stressed her opposition to the bill but added: “I don’t know whether the idea from certain Labour MPs is right or not. I’m not going to second-guess the Lib Dems.”

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