NUS Protest outside Lynne Featherstone’s office 8th December

// 2 December 2010


We’ve just had an email from Olivia Bailey, the NUS national women’s officer, calling for women to protest outside the office of the Lib Dem Minister for Women and Equalities. This will be one action as part of their wider National Day of Action protesting the increase in tuition fees (for more information on the rest of their actions, see here).

Olivia says:

Any increase in fees will hit women hardest – because it will take women longer to pay back their loan due to the gender pay gap, and because interest payments accrued over time mean that women will pay more for their degree. Any increase in fees will shut the door to education for thousands of women.

The NUS Women’s Campaign is calling for women students, and feminist activists, from across the country to gather outside Lynne Featherstone’s constituency office, dressed as Suffragettes and Suffragists to give her a simple message:

Women before us fought for our right to vote and fought for our right to education – we will not let you price women out of education.

Those wanting to join the action should meet at 11am on the 8th December, outside Lynne Featherstone’s Office near Crouch End, 62 High Street, London, N8 7NX. Come with whistles, banners, Sashes, Suffragette colours (Purple, Green, White) and Suffragist colours (Green, Red, White).

See these briefings for more information on the impact of cuts and higher fees on women students and for ideas for banner slogans and email Olivia to let her know if you’re coming, especially if you’re bringing a group, so she can get an idea of numbers.

Comments From You

June Knight // Posted 2 December 2010 at 2:20 pm

I do feel that women need to look after women and find their own alternative economy. I as a woman have not had children but supported paid and provided for many who have. I do not get the ignorant prejudiced schizophrenia that is going around. That they want single mothers to work, even if child a few weeks or months old, but don’t want to pay for child care or education. I don’t get it. Can’t have both. I do think we need an alternative economy where women do not mind donating and contributing to other women getting on and being provided for. For God knows we do it on our own already. I think we are the best and we do a hell of a lot that would be missed and would make society collapse if we were not there. I do think we need to do it for ourselves. Cannot depend on an economy or politics which whips the rug under our feet whenever they feel like it. Bit like being married to a partner who decides when or not he supports you. Not good enough and not stable enough.

cim // Posted 2 December 2010 at 2:25 pm

“Any increase in fees will hit women hardest – because it will take women longer to pay back their loan due to the gender pay gap, and because interest payments accrued over time mean that women will pay more for their degree.”

This would be true if student loans had repayment terms comparable to any commercial loan, or were small, but they aren’t.

On £9k annual fees, for a three year course, you need an average annual salary over £40,000 for the next 30 years to completely repay your loan. Any loan not repaid after 30 years is written off without consequences to the graduate.

Roughly, you need to be in the top 10% of earners at least to repay your loan, and since hardly any graduates start on that sort of salary, you need to be into the top 1% of earners by the end of the 30-year period. Most graduates – even the white male connected ones – won’t be earning that much at 50. Browne’s review admits that he expects most graduates to benefit from the write-off.

Since monthly repayments (and the repayment threshold is being raised and index-linked, so less well-off graduates will pay even less that they do now) are only dependent on income, women (being on average lower paid, more likely to take career breaks, and more likely to be in part-time work) are likely to repay considerably less of their loan than men do, and most men will be getting at least some of the loan written off. But there are no consequences of this (except for the government, which has to pay for the write-offs) – women just on average pay less in the long run for their education than men.

Furthermore, a major and rarely mentioned change of the funding arrangements is to give the same grants, loans, and removal of up-front tuition fees that full-time students currently get to part-time students as well. Over twice as many women as men are part-time students and will unequivocally benefit from this change.

From a student finance point of view these are actually some very redistributive and counter-privilege education reforms, which will marginally increase government HE spending and taxation of the rich, which have been carefully disguised (so that the Tories will vote for them?) as something else.

LonerGrrrl // Posted 2 December 2010 at 3:52 pm

Cim – whilst the terms of the proposed increase in tuition fees mean you won’t have to pay anything back until you are earning enough to do so, & therefore may not adversely affect the individual student to a great extent there, what about the larger scale impact of this rise in fees?

Namely, if you’ve got a load of graduates being expected to pay back a good few thousand pounds, but never being able to, that’s a lot of money not going back into our higher education system, not to mention doing nothing to help this country’s budget deficit.

The inability of students to pay back their fees will particularly hit arts/humanities/social sciences uni depts as the state are severly cutting back on funding these courses directly, & letting the increased tuition fees do that instead.

But if loads of female graduates (who make up the bulk of arts graduates) are unable to pay back their fees, then these uni courses and depts may ultimately be forced to close, which in turn will decrease opportunities for future generations of women to access higher education.

cim // Posted 2 December 2010 at 4:27 pm

Lonergrrl: It’s not significantly different to now, in terms of spending, though. At the moment, the government pays around £6k per student to the university as teaching grant, and around £3k per student to the university as tuition fees loan. The university gets around £9k to spend immediately and isn’t affected if the student never pays any back. The government is changing the balance so that all £9k is in the form of tuition fee loan, but that doesn’t really change that the government will be paying all of the up-front cost and trying to pay for it through a mix of taxation and loan repayments.

Actually, it does improve the deficit situation, too, since “loans with repayments due” can be sold for real immediate money to private investors (even though those investors can’t then vary the loan terms), reducing government debt, while “expectations of future taxation income” can only be used to take on further loans, increasing government debt. This takes away almost all of the government’s risk of not being paid back, and gives it to private investors, since it tends to sell on the loans a few years at a time, before any significant repayments have been made. At the moment it can only sell on a third of the costs, whereas this lets it sell on almost all of them. (This accounting trick is the reason I think it’s not being set up as the equivalent graduate tax, which would be politically far easier to sell, especially for the Lib Dems)

The “free market” bit – replacing teaching grants with tuition fees – is potentially a very major shake-up of the sector, but I don’t think it’ll have that much effect on arts vs science across the sector as a whole, compared with the effect it has (positive and negative, depending on luck and judgement) on individual universities. Science teaching funding is also being cut by the same amount – all that’s being left is the “lab-based supplement” to reflect that those courses are more expensive to teach than arts courses. They could have cut that too (but allowed £2k higher fees on science courses to compensate), but seem to have decided not to because of the psychological effects of science courses being more expensive.

Erika Krause // Posted 2 December 2010 at 4:33 pm

As an American student studying abroad in London, I was amazed that at one point y’all had free higher education. That’s something I never would have thought possible. I desperately wish the States would come up with something like this. As it is, those of us not from families with the means to send all their kids to college must take out exorbitant loans just to get a high enough paying job to pay them back. If the education cuts continue, I’m sure Britain will have to deal with the same situation.

As far as women are concerned, I am reminded of the aftermath of WW2 in America. Of course it was similar (if not exactly the same) here in Britain, but the whole women in the work force deal. When my grandmothers and great-grandmothers went to work in “mens jobs,” they were told they were being extremely patriotic. Only to find out that once the men came home it was MORE patriotic to give up their jobs to the soldiers. (What did it matter anyway right? Women had husbands who could support them, didn’t they? HA)

My point (which I’ve just realized is quite getting away from me) is that I see a very real possibility that women will be told to give up scholarships/loans for men because they will need an education to get a good job and support their families. Never mind the women who don’t rely on men, just a bunch of deviant, non-conformists aren’t they?

I worry about how the patriarchic government is already shaping the cuts. I fear that it could get much worse all in the name of country.

coldharbour // Posted 2 December 2010 at 7:04 pm

How does/would the existing unpaid large debt affect your credit rating?

anchoredwunderlust // Posted 2 December 2010 at 7:09 pm

i actually found the EMA cuts more troubling. dont often get to uni without college.

I actually dislike the EMA system quite a lot, but without a replacement it could actually directly prevent people from attending, never mind put them off, or affecting courses like the fees. The buspasses themselves to get to local college can be upto £400, and if youre doing art or fashion then the quality can depend on what materials you can buy, and there are basics that you NEED, not to mention trips, and Ive known people who work AND get EMA that had to owe the college money for months because of the bus.

obviously it is very often the poorer families that are required to work alongside their courses. Now if they had EMA im not sure a lot of people could afford it with work, and if they do, theyre much less likely to take a more creative degree thats less certain where it is going, especially if its a costly one!

Shinila Bakar // Posted 2 December 2010 at 7:15 pm

Erika – that’s *exactly* the way this government is going. Put simply it wants women to ‘move aside’ for better people with penisies to get education/ get jobs.

If only ‘child bearers’ could just get back to reality – how comfortable everyone knows it is to depend on men, this economy would soar again!

This govt has as an agenda = women doing unpaid work dependent on men = thriving economy. That’s what seeps through every policy. Cameron is such a smug **** nowadays.

larissa // Posted 2 December 2010 at 11:43 pm

Brilliantly made argument by Cim, I very much agree and a lot of that was very interesting.

One thing I am wondering is that if the reason the rise in fees are believed to be so damaging is not because it in itself harms women specifically but because there is a problem in another area of a society should we not be attacking the cause not a symptom?

If women are less likely to be selected for jobs and promotions maybe we should tackle the prejudice against woman with relation to childcare responsibilities for example.

obviously education plays a big part in numerous ways in tackling all issues but it seems to me that blaming the fees rise is rather missing the point.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 3 December 2010 at 12:04 am

The thing is that not everybody will have to pay back loans as some people will have rich parents. This means that they will not lose part of their income every month to repayments, giving them more to spend on other things including their children’s university fees. It will reify existing class distinctions.

Plus, given that most people won’t earn enough to pay back their loans, this will create a situation where most people will lose part of their income each month to loan repayments for 30 years of their working life. People who earn more will be able to pay off their loans quicker, so will spend less time making repayments. As women earn less, they will be more likely to be in the group who spend a longer period of time making repayments. This means they will be further disadvantaged by earning less. This again will reinforce their social position.

Ultimately, it’s not as much about the *amount* of money paid back, as it is about the long-term impact on the amount of money you bring home each month and the consequential impact on your life choices and that of your family.

@coldharbour- student loans generally don’t effect your credit, except for credit that is based on your take-home pay (like mortgages). If you are paying off a loan and that means you are bringing home less, then you will not be able to afford as big a mortgage or large loan. You can also be sued for the full amount of your student loan if you default on payment- this would effect your credit. This is hard to do as your loan is usually paid through PAYE- but it might effect you if you are self-employed or perhaps work overseas.

Beth R // Posted 3 December 2010 at 9:05 am

Cim – “Furthermore, a major and rarely mentioned change of the funding arrangements is to give the same grants, loans, and removal of up-front tuition fees that full-time students currently get to part-time students as well. Over twice as many women as men are part-time students and will unequivocally benefit from this change.”

have you read this? specifically “We estimate around two-thirds of part-time students will not be eligible for fee loans.” Just because the coalition say something is going to be progressive, that does not make it so.

I am also very troubled about the message these changes send to a generation of young people – that if you want something the way to get it is to go into debt, and that your aim should not be to clear your debts.

larissa // Posted 3 December 2010 at 12:23 pm

@feminist avatar i believe are provisions in the fees proposal that say those with rich parents or excellent jobs on graduation would not be able to just pay back straight away with no interest but instead would have to pay the fee plus the interest that would have collected had they paid it back later. this is specifically to try and ensure that the richer pay more and the poorer less.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 3 December 2010 at 2:08 pm

But you won’t have to pay back anything if you never have to take a loan in the firstplace. And, I don’t think anyone is saying that you will be forced to take out the loan to pay your fees. Plus, even if there are early repayment penalties, these will be limited- partly because financial regulations limit these on normal loans like mortgages anyway. Plus large repayment fees would act as a disincentive to repayment, which the government won’t want.

BookElfLeed // Posted 3 December 2010 at 2:19 pm

Cuts to EMA are *very* worrying. Without a financial incentive many students at the college where I work would not bother to come. If they are not at every lesson on time they lose their £30. Colleges success (ie the amount of funding they get given) depends on retention levels being good, as success = retention x achievement.

Troon // Posted 4 December 2010 at 2:53 pm

From the rough audits we’ve carried out (I teach in a humanities department with a 60-40 female-male split) the impact on women students is rather hard to assess. There is a clear parental wealth bias-but most upper class families send their daughters to ‘uni’ nowadays rather than finishing school. We are very worried about what happens to mature part-time students because they often take on studies at points in their lives when they already have commitments, and are more sensitive to perceived cost. These students tend to be women, but they do at least now have access to loan. And staggering repayments will affect women’s choices more because, as feministavatar says, prolonged debt affects life choices regardless of total repayments made.

But there is a much broader concern, which is that the strategic development of studies in the arts, humanities and (of great concern for public policy) social sciences is now to be privatised and determined by the choices of predominantly 18-year-old applicants. We are moving from a system where (often already sexist) academics decide the worth of feminist scholarship to one where 18-year-olds who are much less likely to have encountered it, and much more likely to have negative myths about it, do. And that is really worrying, because most anti-equality teaching in universities is not spectacularly oversubscribed and, if it is, take-up tends to be by people who come to such studies once at university. And this change in who decides on the worth of work will have an impact as appointments are made or contracts negotiated, and will act as a huge break on the advancement of such scholarship and the agendas that go with it. Regardless of its effects on undergrads who then leave university, this is a hugely destructive move for feminist and other anti-discriminatory knowledge production in this country. PROTEST!

at-at // Posted 5 December 2010 at 3:35 pm

I am a mature student doing an OU degree over six years. I’m in receipt of dla and income support and am so on a low income. My highest previous qualifications are gcses, of which I have four above a C. I am also a mother raising two kids.

As things are, I am allowed a certain amount of tuition grant towards courses that are over a certain number of points. This means that I am restricted in the courses I may take as I cannot afford the cost of courses that are below that points value.

This year I am studying two 30 point courses which i recieve a full grant for. But one of the courses I wanted/needed to do to gain the experience necessary for the work I want to do/the subject I want to learn about was a 10 points course, so I had to find £200 to pay for that.

Next year theres a software programming course I want to do which is 20points, and Ill have to find £305 for that.

Although I get help through a Disabled Students Allowance and I also get the near £300 grant for books etc that all low income part time students get, it doesnt cover all my costs on the course. Well some years it does, some it doesnt, depending on the course and how its delivered. I cannot get a student loan to spend on any of my academic costs, let alone to spend on a car or to help cover the gap between my rent and my housing benefit, or for occasional babysitting when I have coursework to get done or an exam to prepare for. I cant get any student credit at all because part time students, in financial context, are not counted as students. I can get an NUS card and so get some discounts, but as an OU student I dont get access to any of the fun stuff that the NUS funds for other students – so no access to gyms, sports training, university computer/science labs, quiet rooms to work in or to meet other students from my course in, very limited access to physical university libraries etc. I cant even get a student railcard. Youd be surprised how many things part time students cant access that full time students take for granted.

Part time students have been lobbying for years and years for this to change and the coalition proposals go some way to meeting us on this.

I can also say that if the proposals had been the thing when I was younger, further ed and then higher ed wouldve been far more accessible to me.

I keep seeing people claiming that how things are equals free education for everyone but thats not the case at all, the great majority of school leavers do not go to university. I see protesters claiming that previous generations had it easier but hardly anyone from my generation (I left school 18 years ago) went to University in comparison to the number who go now. I look at my friends and family and hardly any have degrees, most dont even have a-levels, and some dont have gcses. The idea that the way things are is fair requires so much ignorance on this point. Most people do not have degrees. They are a privilege – maybe thats not how it should be, but that is how it is. These proposals provide more ways in than the current position, or any previous position, does.

I see young people saying ‘but how will we get mortgages?’ – Answer in two parts – 1) your student loan will not affect your ability to get a mortgage – 2) most people do not own their own homes or even have mortgages, there are a huge number of people for whom the idea of owning a home is a total pipe dream so why do you think youre any more entitled to one than they are??

I see young people saying ‘but its really hard to find a job that doesnt require a degree’ – Answer – so give a thought to the large majority of this country who dont have one! Part of the problem is that in the past ten years tons more school leavers than ever before have got degrees, so employers started demanding them when they werent necessary, so we non degree holders were even more stuffed than before. Protesters demanding solidarity would do well to consider joining in solidarity with us and not getting a degree and therefore creating unfair competition for us who didnt have the privilege of university after school. Im actually considering this as well – doing my courses and learning what I want to learn for self development, but spurning the actual degree at the end of it in solidarity with people who, like me thus far, have only been damaged by the expectation of a degree by employers and young people despite reality for the majority.

I wish people, government, universities, and protesters alike, would think a bit wider. I think students should pay for their tuition, room and equipment hire, and accompanying admin fees, and nothing else. Possibly some small percentage also towards original research carried out by the university so that not all research is state or industry funded.

However, everything else – university campuses, classrooms, bars, labs, gyms, halls, etc etc, gets funded via taxes and is opened to the general public. That would seem fair to me. Classes that are not degree related could be put on in university facilities, giving access to higher education to a far greater number of people than at present. Full time degrees, with all tuition funded by loans, stop being seen as a rite of passage for the middle class and wealthy youth and become an option considered carefully by all, regardless of economic status or age.

We need a radical shift and I see these proposals as a small step in that direction. These protests are thoughtless protectionism of middle class consumerist attitudes to higher education. It is not about protecting access for the poor, how can it be when we have always been kept out?

The fact is that under the current system very few poor people get through, and so tax funded university is essentially subsidising middle class privilege. Im not surprised there is anger from the entitled about losing this. But noone is entitled to privilege!

I like arguments in favour of entitlement to education for every single person in this country, but our current system does not give that! The proposed one moves closer to it.

It seems incredibly selfish to me that some activists are insisting that a better deal education wise for those on lower incomes should be voted against by Lib Dems because, so the activists say, it is more important that they ‘keep their promise’ to the current middle class. It requires a huge amount of dishonest arrogance to claim theyre doing it ‘for the poor’.

at-at // Posted 5 December 2010 at 4:07 pm

Also (not here, elsewhere, eg the Guardian) I see a lot of activists or their supporters claiming that higher education (as it stands) is comparable with the NHS or welfare. It isnt. The NHS serves the whole country and the welfare system is a safety net for every citizen. Higher education (as it stands) serves a minority and gives them class, educational, and employment privileges over the rest.

It is a bit like a bizarro world when anyone claims that Higher Education somehow helps social mobility and equalises society, provides a free service to everyone. Maybe it helps a few from the bottom move up a bit but you cant measure the quality of a system by the results for a handful of individuals – you have to look at the whole. Higher education has always been a way of dividing classes – the educated wealthy and the uneducated proles. It has never been accessible to all – just the wealthy and at some times the more academic of the poor.

Over the last century we grew a middle class who by and large have looked down on the working (and ‘undeserving) poor, and in pursuing a false concept of ‘meritocracy’ they have shown absolutely no solidarity with the poor. New Labour’s government served this educated middle class, created lots of decently paid bureaucratic roles in public services for them to fill, many of which have long been resented as boxticking and intrusive by the poor – all those quangos and intrusive civil rights demolishing initiatives! And New Labour created lots of extra university places for the kids of this expanding middle class, with no real long term plan which took into account not just funding issues but the effect this huge expansion in graduate numbers would have on less qualified workers.

Now these unexamined class privileges are dropping away the poor are told to show solidarity by supporting this system which is a primary cause and contributor to inequality and relative poverty!

The subject of higher education is so much bigger than the issue of tuition fees and I cant help but think that the reason that tuition fees are being yelled about so loudly is because the class that disproportionately benefits from higher education does not want the wider issue of the purpose and the result of higher education examined. Its ALL about privilege.

polly // Posted 6 December 2010 at 12:00 am

Larissa – even if there is such a provision, there’s nothing to stop affluent parents helping their children out in other ways financially.

The issue here is that people are more likely to regard it as a natural/obvious step to go to university, if they are from a class background where it’s seen as expected. And poorer people aren’t going to have parents who can help them out financially in other ways, so they’re much less likely to want to saddle themselves with a large debt when they’re very young.

Add those two factors together and I agree with feminist avatar that this will entrench already existing class divisions – as of course will the withdrawal of the EMA – students from poorer families will be under pressure to leave education when they’re 16 because their parents won’t be able to support them.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 6 December 2010 at 11:39 am

@ at-at, I wouldn’t be so hopeful- the government’s own business department think that 2/3 of part-time students won’t be eligable for loans for tuition. So, there is more than a good chance that this won’t make a difference for most part-time students and for those who get support, they will now have loans to pay back, rather than getting grants- so will be worse off in the long-term.

And, while university has traditionally been a privilege, the last two decades have saw the democratisation of universities at an unprecedented level. Today in the UK 30% of men and 40% of women will go to get a degree- a doubling since 1995. Labour’s target was for 50% of all school-leavers. In countries like Finland, it’s nearer 80%- there is no reason why the UK should be different.

And, yes, those from poorer backgrounds are less likely to go- but they are more likely than ever before! In my family, nobody had a degree 15 years ago- today, my mother, me and two of my 3 siblings do- as do many of my cousins and an aunt and an uncle. This is why I believe in free university education- because it completely transformed my family and their occupational choices in less than a generation. My husband’s family has saw something similar in that he and a cousin were the first to go to university, but now his nieces and nephews are attending university or aspire to.

And, yes I agree that it is unfair that those without degrees are badly paid and located in low-status jobs- but I think that what we need is a transformation of our economy and society to ensurer fairer pay and a greater valuing of all workers- realising that we all contribute to society and are all of equal value- not the privitisation of education which will inevitably lead to greater social divisions than ever.

James // Posted 9 January 2011 at 9:52 am

I agree with most of the comments said here and that there is still and issue with there being a pay gap for females, this needs to be addressed.

The point I would like to raise is that in the workplace there are significantly more part time females than males. Therefore if the student loans are unpayable by most graduates on their salary by the time 30years is up, it’s just another tax coming from the payslip. As more females are part time and earn less (rightly so or not, just stating the fact), they will ultimately end up paying less as the amount paid back is dependent on how much earned.

Therefore I am opposed to the thinking that it is unfair on women. This is not saying there needs to be a reform in the system. It is after all a loan and I think should be treated as one, with a regular payment plan say over 30years for all graduates. This will not solve the issue of class differences etc, but it would solve the differences in the sexes, providing women are payed fairly.

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