As those of you who read John Gray's article in the last NPC Newsletter will know Midland Bank and the '94 Groupof universities (Bath, Birkbeck, Durham, UEA, Exeter, Essex, Lancaster, LSE, Reading, Surrey, Sussex, York and Warwick) have got together to bring us the brave new world of postgraduate loans. The NPC has a number of concerns regarding these loans, not least the fact they seem to have been designed with minimal consultation of their eventual consumers - students.
As John pointed out in his article, the suggestions so far do not improve substantially upon the Professional Studies Loancurrently available from Midland. This existing loan is aimed at those on vocational courses such as Medicine or Law, who are likely to have relatively little difficulty with repayments. It is clearr that any new scheme will have to differ radically from the existing set-up if it is to have its stated aim of throwing open the doors of Postgraduate education to a wider public. In a world where acaademic institutions and research are woefully underfunded, especially in the humanities, only the most career-oriented courses will be likely to benefit from a greater student influx. If you were doingg a masters course and fancied going on to a PhD you might as well forget it. Get this: a £7,500 loan to fund one year's fees and living expenses would translate into a monthly payback of £1330 for 11 years. Try paying that on a PhD grant!
While the final proposals from Midland have yet to be unveiled, Esther Connock, who is in charge of the development at Midland, has told me they hope for the loans to be available to this year's intake of students. Despite the lack of a concrete plan, 12 of the thirteen universities in the '94 Grouphave already signed up. In fact Warwick has gone one better and got a loan scheme going already with Barclays to fund one-year masters courses. This scheme, advertised in a nice glossy brochure plasstered with the University's name, is not really any different form Barclays' Professional Studies Loan, apart from the fact that you get a three month repayment holiday after you finish your course (woow).
In view of these concerns, the NPC has composed a policy statement, which is summarised below.
The NPC is concerned at the lack of consultation of the loans' target market, and believes that the current suggestions are no great leap forward in financial provision for postgrads. The huge levels oof debt involved are incompatible with many aspects of academic career structure and could prohibit further study for reseach degrees.
It seems as if the Universities involved will use their names as somehting of a marketing ploy to lull students into what may be a false sense of security. Student may therefore take out a loan they miight nto otherwise have considered.
We are concerned that the introduction of this scheme will be used as an excuse to introduce top-up fees for a wider majority of courses, forcing students to take the loans and get themselves into debt..
We are also unhappy that the scheme will be available only to students studying at '94 group Universities, and that students on differnt courses will find themselves facing different terms and conditioons. We believe that any loan scheme should be publicly administered and available to all.
The NPC is not opposed to any new scheme which offers new opportunities for financial proviosion. However, this scheme does not seem to be it. Any loan scheme for postgraduate students must take intto account the varied nature of postgrad courses and uncertain academic career prospects. Hence flexibility should central to any proposal.