The new student finance arrangements in 2012/13 change the way that interest is charged on student loans. Previously, interest was pegged at the level of inflation (as measured by the Retail Price Index, or RPI). From September, student loans for new students will have variable interest rates, with a maximum rate of RPI plus 3 per cent.
This change creates a particular barrier for those students of faith – particularly Muslim students – who believe their faith prohibits the use of interest-bearing loans. Whilst in the past inflation-only interest was generally believed to be acceptable, interest at a rate above this is not – and with fees now as high as £9,000, avoiding the use of student loans is very difficult. Consequently, many Muslim students could be prevented from accessing higher education if they believe they cannot borrow money via conventional student loans.
The Government recognises this in its own equality impact assessments of the new scheme, and a number of bodies – NUS, FOSIS, 1st Ethical and Al-Qalam - have been working together with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to devise an alternative system of student finance, one that will be complaint with scripture and, importantly, offer neither financial benefit nor disadvantage to any student choosing to use it. After an extended period of discussion such a system has been devised – but it will require primary legislation (that is, an Act of Parliament) to enable the Student Loans Company to offer the alternative to students.
Currently, the Government states there is no suitable bill going through Parliament and consequently, the introduction of any alternative will be delayed to at least 2015/16 or beyond. Such a long period without this alternative is unacceptable when its absence creates such a barrier to participation.
We need your help to lobby the Government to speed up the process: please contact your vice-chancellor to see if they can put pressure on BIS to speed up the introduction of the alternative, write to your local MP and to David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science.
If you want more information, the charity, 1st Ethical, has a number of useful briefings and resources on its website, including pro-forma letters and information about options if a student does not feel able to take out conventional loans.
Please contact NUS if you have any response to your efforts, and meanwhile NUS and its partners will continue to lobby the Government on this issue.
Read, rate, comment, and subscribe!