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If I may, I will come to the student loan book in a moment, because that is a serious point.
One final point from the model that I have outlined is that the average amount paid back by each graduate would fall by £5,000 in total. On this model, usable university income would rise by at least £650 million a year.
The current approach is astonishingly wasteful in terms of public money and private graduate contributions —and that is not the end of it. As he said in the autumn statement, the Chancellor wants to encourage an additional 90,000 students, funded by the sale of the income-contingent student loan book. I do not object to the principle of selling the loan book. I tried to do it myself for two years when I was a Minister, but I became convinced that value for money was impossible to achieve. Buyers face such unknown risks on future inflation, earnings and the level of evasion that either the loan book has to be sold at a massive mark-down on face value or the buyer’s income has to be guaranteed through taxpayer subsidies—the so-called synthetic hedge, which is not so much plastic privet as guaranteed private profit. Selling a capital asset to fund hypothecated revenue spending is a short-term fix that exposes higher education to unsustainable costs when the money runs out. The Public Accounts Committee has said that it has no confidence in the ability of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to work out what is value for money.
This cannot go on. Universities are pressing for higher fees, and Ministers have refused to rule out an increase, but the financial futility of that is now clear. Every time fees go up, the cost and rate of debt cancellation will increase. Graduate repayments will rise, yet fewer and fewer graduates will repay their debts. The Prime Minister’s former head of policy, Paul Kirby, recently suggested closing 25% to 40% of all university courses—all those where graduate incomes are not enough to repay fees. Higher education is not simply a private benefit; it is a public benefit and a private benefit. It is now clear that we can reset the system so that there is a fair partnership between the state and the student. As my modelling has shown, we could have lower fees, lower borrowing and lower debt cancellation, with higher usable incomes for universities, within the current envelope of public spending. Only the ideological dogma and blinkered embarrassment of this Government stands in the way of doing just what is needed.