In the 2017 general election the vast majority of young people voted for Labour. Only 19% of 18-19 year olds voted for the Conservatives. As a Conservative member I find this figure to be rather embarrassing, and I want to do something about it.
Now people will talk about how this is because young people are remainers. That young people are just inherently socialist. I agree with the former, but disagree with the latter. However, the factor I wish to focus on is university student loans and debt that comes with them. This is one of the biggest issues in the lives of young people who are increasingly going to university.
Old vs New:
As of 2019 the UK has a student loan system, loans that students take out that are guaranteed by the government, and paid back based on income. In other words, should a student be unable to pay off their debt the taxpayer will bail them out. This to me seems very unfair. Firstly to students who fear debt and government policy on said debt changing in the future. Secondly to the taxpayer, with studies suggesting they will have to bail out a third of all student debt. That’s despite many taxpayers never setting foot inside the halls of higher education.
It’s clear to me the system needs changing. That’s why I propose we as Conservatives drive that change. Be bold. Use the opportunity the higher education review creates. Stop kicking the can down the road, and introduce a proper graduate contribution system as suggested by Justine Greening.
“the danger of a review is that you just kick things into the long grass” – Justine Greening, former Education Secretary
A graduate contribution system would see all students, like now, paying back into the system based on their income. This ensures those graduates who are poor and can’t pay are still protected. Each student would pay back into the university system over a set time period, perhaps 20, 25, or 30 years. This would then mean that those who become very wealthy post university don’t just get to pay their loans off in say 2 years and end their contribution. It means they continue to contribute for the whole time period, putting back into the system that has provided them a spring board to their wealth post university.
Simply, those who get rich post university contribute more than their poorer peers and more than they contribute now.
The Conservative case:
From a Conservative viewpoint there’s both a fiscally conservative argument for this, as well as a politically advantageous one. From a fiscally conservative viewpoint if the rich are ultimately contributing far more than they currently do to our higher education system, with no change on the poorer end of the scale, we help plug the financial gap that the taxpayer currently faces filling once graduates’ loans expire. This then makes it fairer on the taxpayer as a whole, as those who use the system are ultimately the ones who are contributing more to it, rather than those who don’t use it plugging the gap student loans create.
From a politically advantageous perspective the Conservatives, should we put forward this policy, don’t just do what the Labour party have done and promise to abolish student debt. We actually provide a realistic, financially viable, and fair way of doing so. One that actually says to young people – we’re done ignoring you. Yes we understand your concerns and wish to address them on student loans, and here is our realistic answer to that. An answer that ensures you don’t get into debt, an answer that ensures those who get rich because of university pay their fair share, an answer that is fair on the taxpayer, and an answer that provides a sustainable system of funding for our higher education system.
“All graduates should pay for the full time period, not just the lower-earning 70-80 per cent.” – Justine Greening, former Education Secretary
As someone who is a Conservative and voted for Theresa May in 2017, I find it appalling that this idea for a graduate contribution system was mothballed with the removal of Justine Greening from education. Despite my party membership it actually proves to me and the rest of society that the Conservative party itself is static, and in its current form is unable to provide the progress our society needs. This is why we need people like Justine Greening round the cabinet table.
As a party the Conservatives need to be bold. We need to produce sustainable, sensible policy that addresses the issues that people face, especially those of young people. I believe moving to a graduate contribution system does that. It addresses the problems young people have with the loan system, and actually provides them a proper choice between realistic solutions from the Conservatives and fantasy from Labour, rather than the choice they faced in 2017 between despair and hope.