Hands off our loans Student Assembly #StopTheSellOff protest. Photo: Marienna Pope-Weidemann

Student campaigners are celebrating victory after Vince Cable announced that the Lib Dems have pulled the plug on the planned privatisation of Student Loans

So, here we are. We organised and protested against the government plans to sell off the student loan book and, lo and behold, they have announced that they will do just that. But what does this mean for the student movement and what is behind this surprise decision?

For those of you who weren’t aware the sell off (privatisation) of the student loan book was the plan by the coalition to sell off the state owned debt accumulated between 1998-2012. This effectively means that the ‘cheap’ (sounds nice doesn’t it?), interest free loans given to students by the government to pay for ever increasing tuition fees would no longer be in the hands of the government, but instead in the hands of private investors.

The potential ramifications of this range from an introduction and increase in interest rates on loans to a lowering of the wage bracket over which they have to start being paid back (currently set at £21,000 pa) and more. To make it worse, the plan was made attractive to buyers by significantly lowering the value of the loans to far less than their actual value.

In November 2013 the SAAA and the NCAFC launched separate campaigns to attempt to tackle this issue from a grassroots level. The NCAFC lobbied the Liberal Democrat conference and successfully occupied several Lib Dem offices while the SAAA called a week of action that saw the issue spread to over 50 campuses over the country, with actions such as banner drops, die-ins and occupations catching news both local and national.

The fight against the sell off (and effective retrospective hike of tuition fees) carried on being a central issue to the student movement into the new year and through 2014.
Fast forward to 20th July and Vince Cable announces that the Lib Dems have vetoed the decision and so it’s no longer part of government policy. Time for celebration, right?

Well yes but we have to remember, this is just a small battle in a larger war. Every day, every term and every year we see our universities slip away from the staff and students who work and exist within them and into the hands of greedy chancellors and businesses who want to further the already unacceptable marketisation of our education. We have to continue to work together to resist these draconian attacks. 

We must fight against tuition fees that price people out of a future and punish the rest of us with astronomical debt. The attacks on fractional staff, professors, in house staff and outsourced workers that treat those who educate and look after us like worthless drones, and the cuts to vital services like EMA that consign bright disadvantaged teens to the gutter. These are the fights we have to fight, and these are the fights we have to win.

This decision has shown us that a grassroots movement with a wide base of support can have an effect on government policy. But the context of this decision must be recognised. The Liberal Democrats got one of their lowest results ever in a European election earlier this year, coming 5th and are trying to improve their image ahead of next year’s election. Trying to placate the students they betrayed in 2010 by tripling tuition fees is a cynical tactic that we will not fall for. We know that a few nice policies will not be enough. We want change. We want real action at attacking the root, the selling off of our futures. We can achieve this if we want.

This is more evidence that public opinion is turning against privatisation. Supporters across all three parties show support for varying levels of renationalisation. YouGov polls show that 66 percent of the public support public ownership of the railways and 84 percent saying that the NHS should be completely publicly owned. A majority of conservative voters also supported public ownership of the energy companies. This shows a clear shift in opinion away from the neoliberal agenda we’ve all been told is the norm for the last 35 years. This recent u-turn along with the other recently dropped policy of  privatising of vast swathes of publicly owned land show that the establishment and their politics are quaking in the face of public anger.

On the 19th November the Student Assembly Against Austerity, National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts, Young Greens, NUS Scotland and many others are calling a mass, national demonstration to call for a free education. An education free of debt, cuts and fees. Come and help us shape a future we want.

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