Student Loans = Student Debt


This college year has seen a large increase in the number of students taking out loans in order to go to college. As part of an aggressive advance into the student debt market, Bank of Ireland has already agreed schemes to provide “discounted loans” to students in DCU and Trinity, and to postgraduate students across the country (in this case the scheme was negotiated directly with theState) .BofI is also said to be in “advanced discussions” with over 10 other 3rd-level institutions.

After the raising of the so-called ‘registration fee’ (which in reality is tuition fees by another name) to €2,250 over the years of the crisis, many students are now left in a situation where they need credit in order to attend third-level college. Clearly, with the registration fee due to rise to over €3000 in the next few years, the student debt market will only continue to expand.

This should be seen as the ‘thin end of the wedge’ in a creeping privatisation of 3rd level funding. The austerity agenda of the government and the EU/IMF, coupled with a pre-existing neoliberal ideological commitment to transforming public services into businesses which must turn a profit, means that the funding of 3rd level education by means of private credit is an attractive policy. Students are increasingly treated as consumers of a product rather than participants in an educational process which benefits society, and are increasingly expected to act as a revenue source for the state, for universities and for financial institutions.

The upshot of this is that access to education will increasingly depend on students’ (or their parents’) ability to access credit, and to handle the debt burden. In other words: this will function as a barrier to working class students accessing higher education.

So far, political opposition from the student unions and the Union of Students in Ireland has focused on the details of the plan rather than on the issue of free education. USI have criticised the ‘punitive’ interest rates being charged to students (around 10%) and have raised issues around access to loans, but have thus far remained relatively mute on the wider political issue of who should pay for education (despite being mandated by students to fight for free fees funded entirely by the Exchequer).

As anarchists, we oppose the reshaping of education to the logic of the markets and oppose all class barriers to education. However, we also recognise that this can only be achieved if students organise, in solidarity with other working class people, and take direct action to fight for our right to an education.

WSM members are involved in Free Education for Everyone, a grassroots campaign of students, education workers, and others affected by these issues, which opposes the neoliberal restructuring of education.

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This article appeared in
Workers Solidarity 128 - Nov/Dec 2012