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12th February 2009, 9:49am
Student debt debated
Student debt debated The issue of student debt was placed under the spotlight again during a debate at the University of Lincoln.

Lincoln MP Gillian Merron was the special guest at the event, which was organised by the University’s Students’ Union (SU) and hosted in the Engine Shed.

SU Vice President (Education) Kayleigh Turner chaired the meeting, where she was joined on the panel by senior University staff Professor Mike Saks and Chris Spendlove, and National Union of Students Vice President (Higher Education) Aaron Porter.

They were there to hear arguments about whether the current funding system should change in a Government review of higher education finances due to take place later this year.

The debate took as its starting point the conclusions of an NUS report published last year. This document, Broke and Broken, warned the existing funding set-up introduced in 2004 is unsustainable and called for an overhaul of the way higher education is funded.

Students in the audience posed their own questions to the panel on issues ranging from funding for part-time and international students to the way class timetables could be adapted to make it easier for students to manage part-time jobs.

Ms Merron said it was right for students to make the strength of their feelings known now to politicians, before the review takes place.

She said: “Our motivation is about getting the widest possible access for people to have the opportunity of going to university. I want everybody who has the ability and desire to go into higher education to be able to do so.”

Mr Porter said that while higher education in the UK – and the contribution it makes to individuals, society and the economy - was ‘world class’, it needed to be properly funded to remain so.

He warned that proposals to lift the current £3,000 cap on top-up fees could be disastrous.

“As soon as you get a system where different universities charge different amounts, students will make decisions on where to go not based on their ability, but based on their ability to pay and take on debt,” he said.

He called for the Government to consider a progressive system where graduates repay some of the cost of their education, based on their earnings. This, he claimed, would stop the current ‘unfair’ system which sees teachers and nurses pay the same amount towards their degrees as lawyers and bankers earning much greater salaries.

Professor Mike Saks, Senior Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Lincoln, said: “I’m very passionate that we ensure students coming into higher education, whether that be at the University of Lincoln or elsewhere, are not hindered by their financial circumstances. Secondly, it’s important that we ensure universities are properly funded so that they can deliver a very good student experience.”

He said universities could play an important role in leading the UK out of recession and highlighted the contribution the University of Lincoln now makes to the county’s economy.

University of Lincoln Registrar Chris Spendlove said the role of universities in driving the UK economy was sometimes underestimated.

He said: “The higher education sector provides an absolutely fantastic value-for-money service to the UK. It’s a world class service but the sector does not receive world class funding.”

In 2007-8, the University of Lincoln paid over £4m in scholarships and bursaries against £10m additional variable fee income – meaning 40 per cent of the income from top-up fees was spent on providing scholarships and bursaries.

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