I happened on the case of Christine Armstrong who, aged 63, began a university course for a BA in English, and three years later is beginning a Master’s degree course.
Excellent, you might think. Not so. Her education is effectively free, paid for by you and me. It’s about never having to repay your student loan.
Merryn Somerset Webb, in her blog in Money Week, neatly describes how this crazy situation arises.
“From 2012, all student tuition fees [are] automatically paid by the Student Loans Company. When the students graduate, and are earning more than £21,000, they will start to pay 9% of their income over to the Student Loans Company via the PAYE system.”
“… no one on an income of under £21,000 has to pay back their student loans to the taxpayer. Armstrong has taken out a student loan to cover her tuition fees (the maximum is £9,000 a year). She has also received a maintenance grant (£3,354 if your household income is under £25,000). Armstrong’s pension income is under £21,000.”
“The result? Her loans aren’t actually loans. They are gifts from us to her. And rather large gifts too – if she has taken the maximum every year, she is costing us over £12,000 a year.”
Like Merryn, I think this loophole in the system needs to be removed quickly. We can’t afford to give pensioners degree level education for free. It’s simply unaffordable.
Some years back, I took a year’s course in Garden Design at Merrist Wood College. Loved it. It didn’t occur to me to seek funding from the state. I paid for it out of savings, which meant keeping my car for 12 years, before changing it. [PS. I did pass the exams]
This is another question I’ll be asking the Rt Hon Michael Gove at his upcoming parliamentary breakfast in early February.