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Student Loan Repayment Threshold

Volume 705: debated on Monday 6 December 2021

We are considering reforms to continue to drive up the quality of higher education, promote genuine social mobility and ensure better value for money for both the taxpayer and the student. I will not comment on speculation, but we remain committed to a fairer funding model for students in higher education and will conclude the post-18 review in due course.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I know that she is as aware as I am of the effect of lockdown on the education of the current generation of students, so may I urge her, whatever decision she and the Department come to regarding the threshold for student loan repayments, to ensure that we do not do anything that would be perceived as punishing this generation—a generation that feels so hard done by as a result of the necessary decisions taken over the past two years?

My hon. Friend is an assiduous campaigner on behalf of students. I reassure him and the House that we are committed to a funding model for higher education that is fair for students and the taxpayer—a system that enables those with the ability and the ambition to go to university, complete their course and get a graduate job.

The Prime Minister is notorious for sitting on reports—he must have piles—but Augur predates even him. With regard to higher education funding, there are reports that the repayment threshold on student loans may drop to £22,000 before graduates start paying back their student loans, which would be both regressive and burdensome. It would be regressive because, according to the IFS, a cut in the repayment threshold would impact worst female graduates and those from more deprived backgrounds, and burdensome because a graduate earning £30,000 a year would have to pay about £400 more on top of £500 more in national insurance contributions, which would represent a real-terms tax rate of 50%. Will the Minister confirm that changes to the threshold will be guided by the principles of fair and progressive taxation? When can we expect the Government’s response to Augar?

As I have already outlined, we will report back on Augar shortly. The principles underlying our policies are: a more sustainable student finance system, driving up quality, seeing real social mobility and maintaining our world-class reputation in higher education. That is what we stand for and will continue to work towards.

I welcome the new shadow Education team to their positions. Young people in England already graduate with an average of £50,000 of debt as a result of the huge tuition fees, so for the Government even to contemplate lowering the threshold for student loan repayments will only compound the financial struggles of those young people. It is not good enough to say that we will hear about Augur shortly. Augur recommended that tuition fees be lowered by this academic year. So can the Minister explain why, contrary to recommendations by experts commissioned by her own Government, tuition fees have still not been lowered?

As the hon. Member will know, the Augur report was comprehensive, so it is right that we look at everything outlined in it and take our time to get this right. As I have said, at the heart of our decision making will be: students; ensuring that our higher education institutions retain their international reputation; and ensuring genuine social mobility. I wish that Opposition parties would focus on that, too.