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Power to make alternative payments

Part of Higher Education and Research Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 13th October 2016.

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Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education) 4:00 pm, 13th October 2016

I will crack on, Sir Edward.

New clause 11 is intended to support learner flexibility, as helpfully discussed at length in Tuesday’s debate. The Government are committed to student choice and share the ambitions of Members of all parties to support flexibility to meet students’ circumstances. Supporting students who wish to switch higher education institution or degree is an important part of our reforms.

The hon. Gentleman is aware that the Government recently ran a call for evidence on credit transfer and accelerated degrees. We were pleased to receive more than 4,500 responses, which we are currently looking at carefully. We need to consider a number of issues before moving forward, and we recognise the central importance of student funding arrangements alongside wider issues such as student demand and awareness, and external regulatory requirements. We expect to come forward, as I said previously, by the end of the year with our response to the call for evidence.

Turning to new clauses 13, 14 and 15, I share hon. Members’ desire to ensure that students’ interests are protected when they take out a student loan, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to set out how we will ensure that. The key point is that student loans are not like commercial loans. Monthly repayments and interest are based on the borrower’s income, not on the amount borrowed. Borrowers repay nothing if they earn below the £21,000 threshold. Repayments are affordable and the loan is written off after 30 years with no detriment to the borrower.

Hon. Members have suggested that an independent panel should consider terms and conditions, and that changes to repayment terms and conditions should be subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament. However, the key terms and conditions governing the repayment of the loan—the repayment threshold and rate, and the interest charged on the loan—are all set out in regulations. The current procedure already allows Parliament to debate or vote on any changes to the repayment regulations. That is the appropriate level of accountability for the decisions.