It was only a matter of time before a party busted out the big guns and spoke about their policies regarding university fees. Queue Ed Miliband and Labour's revolutionary plans to lower fees from £9,000 a year to £6,000.
First of all, for a bit of context, I work in a Students' Union. And yes, I was as outraged as the next person when the Lib Dems did their U-turn from their promise to abolish fees to then tripling them. However, there has been a silver lining.
On a near daily basis, I now speak to students who are demanding better quality from their course and institution. "I'm paying £9,000 a year" is thrown around like it's nothing, but this is incredibly positive when it comes to student engagement. Students now see themselves as customers. If you order food in a restaurant and it comes to you with a big hair on it, you would have no qualms about sending it back. This scenario can now be applied to poor organisation of courses, or even not enough lectures on the timetable.
As a Students' Union, we have seen our drink sales steadily decline over the last few years, with food sales going the opposite way. More and more students are attending the University gym, popping along to career fairs and engaging in voluntary work. In fact, this year our uptake on active volunteers has trebled. Students want to get the most out of their experience at university, as they're paying through the nose for it.
An argument for reducing fees is they put students from disadvantaged backgrounds off. Speaking from personal experience (I left home at 15 and have been self-supporting ever since) the idea of student debt didn't put me off at all. If you want to go to university - you will go. I know that I won't start paying back my fees until I earn over £16,000 a year (I paid £3,000 a year for my fees), but those paying the higher rate don't have to start paying anything back until they earn over £21,000. Personally, I feel that figure is more than fair. Which, as a student representative, is probably an unexpected view.
I think the Parties need to be concentrating on less high-profile policies and work from the ground up. Why aren't they sorting out Student Finance? The whole system is completely ridiculous. Student rent prices are skyrocketing, whilst the amount of maintenance loan you're entitled to stays the same. I know many students whose loan doesn't cover their rent, and they're actually in a deficit once rent is deducted. It seems that it's the students from middle class families that are suffering the most. Maintenance loans are generally based on your parent's income, so if your household is considered "well-off", the assumption is that your family will give you extra money. This is not always the case. We have recently set up a Food Hub for students, and the majority of inquiries I have had are from these particular students.
No wonder there are more and more pay-day loan companies targeting students.
So I guess what I'm saying is: cheers, Ed - but it's not good enough.