MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis has today implored the Government to treat students "as voters and citizens, not just consumers" while giving evidence to the Higher Education and Research Bill Committee.
During his appearance at the House of Commons committee meeting, Martin was asked for his views on treating students as consumers, but he branded the whole concept of fairness in the wake of recent Government action concerning the retrospective changes to student loan payments "a bloody farce".
Martin called for the student loan T&Cs to be protected by statute, meaning they would become enshrined in law.
He cited the "abominable and disgraceful behaviour of the Government in the retrospective hike in student loan fees" as an action that had damaged trust in not just the student finance system but politics in general.
The Higher Education and Research Bill is designed to make it easier for new higher education providers to start up and call themselves universities.
It'll also create a new Office For Students (OFS), which will regulate the sector and link the amount that universities can charge their students to the quality of their teaching. The bill will additionally introduce sharia student finance for the first time, so Islamic students can access student finance.
Check out what Martin had to say to the committee here:
Retrospective student loan payment hike thrust into the spotlight
Speaking during the evidence-gathering session this afternoon, Martin called on universities minister Jo Johnson to pull the plug on the retrospective hike in student loan payments – a topic that has already sparked a petition signed by more than 130,000 people and a subsequent parliamentary debate.
This relates to a previous Government promise to increase the £21,000 student loan repayment threshold every year to reflect earnings. Because the Government has since gone back on its word and frozen the threshold, many students will pay back more.
To illustrate his point, Martin held up a letter from Johnson's ministerial predecessor David Willetts, which told a parent that the threshold would increase every year by average earnings. Martin has vowed to submit this letter as evidence to the committee.
Referencing the theme of treating students as consumers, Martin said that if students had borrowed money from a commercial lender, and the commercial lender had reneged on its previous promise, "the FCA would have struck out in a second the idea that five years after announcing the repayment threshold would go up from £21,000 from 2017 with average earnings, that would be frozen".
Martin told the committee meeting that there had been a lot of debate over whether the Government actually promised this or not. He explained that although it wasn't in the T&Cs, FCA regulations are quite clear: if your major marketing states you will do something, whether the T&Cs have an exemption for it or not, you have to do it.
"Let's not just treat students as consumers, let's treat them as voters and citizens," he said. "When people have signed a contract with the Government [and retrospective changes are made], you knock the faith not only out of the student finance system, but the belief in politics as a whole. Until that is sorted out students will not be treated fairly as consumers and this whole thing is a bloody farce."
Elsewhere, Martin suggested changing the term 'student loan' to 'graduate contribution' because student loans do not work like any other form of loan – "it's somewhere between a loan and a tax", he said.
Sharia student finance welcomed
Meanwhile, Martin welcomed a move that will mean members of the Islamic faith can access student finance instead of looking to parents for funding, which is generally bad finance in the current system.
He said that there needs to be a guarantee that there's no benefit (or disadvantage) to the sharia student finance arrangement and that it works on the same terms as it does for other students.
Martin added that there are members of the Islamic faith who are disengaged and disenfranchised and that the introduction of sharia student finance is "very good news".