UEA students protested against the sell off of student debt last Thursday 6 January, urging local MPs and UEA management to oppose the privatisation of the student loan book.
The proposal, announced by Chancellor George Osborne in last year’s Autumn Statement, would see the loans of students who studied in the 1990s sold to private debt collection companies.
Carrying red boxes above their heads to symbolise “the burden of debt”, the students rallied in the LCR and then marched to the Registry, chanting their demands for free education and a publicly owned student loan book. The protest culminated in the Square with a mock auction of student loans.
Rosie Rawle, Communications Officer at the Union of UEA Students, said, “This protest does not mean that we accept tuition fee rises, nor are we trying to make the best out of a done deal.
“Education is a public good, and should not be managed as a commodity. The urgency, however, of a bad deal becoming worse, means we must take action now. Our end goal is free education.”
Norwich South’s Liberal Democrat MP, Simon Wright, has not signed an Early Day Motion condemning the policy. Mr Wright told Concrete that he “has sought reassurances from Ministers that borrowers will be protected”, and said that “the Government has ruled out changing the terms of interest rates for existing student loans, even if they transfer to private ownership”.
He added: “One of the conditions set ensures that borrowers whose loans are sold are not in a worse position than they would have been had the loans not been sold”.
Speaking to Concrete in November the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, called the loan sell off “a perfectly sensible thing to do”.
Student campaigners, however, were not comforted by Mr Wright’s assurances, pointing out that any pledge ruling out a change in interest rate terms was not legally binding and interest rates could easily be raised by a future government.
A UEA spokesperson said: “We will be working with and through Universities UK, in their discussions with ministers, to ensure that current funding proposals, including the sale of assets, are a sustainable basis for the development of the sector.”