UCU: Zahawi must be ‘voice for students’ against loan costs hike

Union urges education secretary to intervene on student loan changes and to press university bosses into talking on disputes

October 22, 2021

The University and College Union has urged the new education secretary to try to stop plans to increase graduate loan repayments in England in the comprehensive spending review.

In a letter to Nadhim Zahawi, the UCU says that any move to lower the repayment threshold would be “regressive” and would risk deterring “less privileged students” from entering higher education.

The government is expected to reveal plans in the spending review, to be announced on 27 October, that the threshold will be lowered from its current level just above £27,000, and to start consulting on proposals for a minimum entry requirement to qualify for student loan funding at higher education institutions.

The Augar review of post-18 education recommended lowering the repayment threshold to £23,000. Such a move would recoup more of the government’s outlay on student and higher education funding.

In the letter, UCU general secretary Jo Grady tells Mr Zahawi that rather than lowering the repayment threshold, “now really is the time to properly consider scrapping tuition fees entirely and replacing this with long-term, secure public funding”.

Mr Zahawi took office after the Department for Education had submitted its spending review bid to the Treasury and he may have little influence at this stage.

Ms Grady also tells Mr Zahawi that UCU “has this week begun balloting members over attacks on pensions, pay and conditions in higher education, while members at several further education [colleges] have recently been taking strike action over pay. Industrial action is never taken lightly and I would urge you to use your good offices to encourage employers to take the necessary steps to end these disputes as soon as possible.”

Ms Grady said: “As secretary of state for education, Mr Zahawi must be a voice for students in England and take on colleagues in government who want to worsen the student debt nightmare.

“If the government pushes through regressive student loan changes, graduates on some of the lowest salary bands will see their pay packets hit. This is a tax on education and aspiration.

“Our members are balloting for industrial action to fight back against a university system that fails students and graduates, leaving them with shocking levels of debt, and staff with declining pay, pension cuts and insecure contracts. Mr Zahawi should urge university bosses to meet with us and negotiate in good faith over these issues that have been ignored for so long.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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