Category Archives: International Students

The lonely shame of student debt

Ryan Anderson, The Chronicle of Higher Education
06 March 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 357

The young woman student working for the debt-collecting agency did not know that student loans contain few to no consumer protections. Say what you will about the credit-card industry – at least consumers who get into trouble still have basic legal protections. When it comes to student loans, especially private loans, that’s not the case. The phone rings. I answer. Credit-card collector – again. A pleasant voice on the other end of the line: “Can you please verify the last four digits of your Social Security number?” I verify.

This is an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, America’s leading higher education publication. It is presented here under an agreement with University World News.

The voice then asks me if I consent to letting them use my phone number to contact me about my credit-card debt. I say no, I do not consent.

“Well, how would you like us to contact you to give you updates about your account?” You can send the updates in the mail, I tell the voice. “Very well, please hold on while I transfer you.” I hold.

Another pleasant voice comes on the line: “We’re calling about the status of your account. According to our records, you have not made the current minimum payment. We would be glad to process an electronic check for US$92.55 to bring your account current.” No, I say, I can’t do that.

“Well, is there a reason why you can’t make your payment at this time?” the new voice asks.

My answer jumps out of me: “I can’t make the payment because I am deep in student-loan debt, trying to finish graduate school, looking for work, there is no work, the higher education market is completely devastated, I’m raising a kid, and I happened to go to graduate school right in the middle of a global economic implosion. Sorry.”


Then the voice says: “I’m in graduate school, too.” She’s just working this job because she has three kids and she’s trying to make ends meet, she explains. She tells me she’s going to finish in a year, and she’s looking into PhD programmes. We end up having a 10-minute conversation about graduate school and debt. Surreal.

I offer one piece of advice: Don’t pay a dime for a PhD. I end by warning her about student loans because they have been stripped of almost every meaningful consumer protection, including the ability to discharge them in bankruptcy. She tells me she had no idea and thanks me for the advice.

Yes, that really happened. What a strange, ironic and revealing conversation. Ironic because the young woman – who works in the debt-collection industry – did not know that student loans contain few to no consumer protections.

Say what you will about the credit-card industry – at least consumers who get into trouble still have basic legal protections. When it comes to student loans (especially private loans), that’s not the case. Far too many people sign up for student loans without knowing how badly the balance of power is tipped in favour of lenders and collection companies.

But the conversation revealed something else as well. The student-debt problem is happening to people across a broad social spectrum, and we don’t always know about others who might be in the same predicament. Many of us assume that we are alone.

Talking about student debt is taboo. Many of us feel shame and embarrassment, and we keep quiet to avoid being seen as complainers or losers. We keep our heads down.

The result is that there are legions of people in the same situation who don’t know that so many others share similar concerns and face similar hardships. This lack of mutually shared knowledge – of a community – helps perpetuate student debt, especially as new generations sign up for student loans without access to the knowledge or experience of those who came before them.

My debt collector and I have a lot in common. But a dehumanised student financial aid bureaucracy, combined with shame and lack of shared knowledge, means we don’t know about that common ground.

What we don’t know about the realities of our own student debt is killing us, and what we don’t know about the debt of those around us is killing us as well. As the folks from Strike Debt so aptly put it: “You are not a loan.”

The possibilities for meaningful change rest on this powerful bit of shared knowledge: We are not alone.

Ryan Anderson recently received his PhD in anthropology from the University of Kentucky and is a lecturer at San Diego State University, USA.

University World News

Angry students protest against university reforms

Jan Petter Myklebust 05 March 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 357

Academics and students across the country called for a national day of action on March 4 as part of widespread protests against government plans for university reforms. In response, the government has backed down on some of its proposed changes and postponed others until 2018. Academics and students across the country called for a national day of action on March 4 as part of widespread protests against government plans for university reforms.

As previously reported in University World News, the Netherlands government last year introduced a bill that would convert student grants into loans from 1 January 2015, freeing up €1 billion (US$1.1 billion) from the state higher education budget.

Under the plans, an estimated €200 million to €300 million a year would be allocated as grants to students whose families earned less than €46,000 a year. The remainder would be ploughed back into the higher education system to improve its quality.

The Dutch National Union of Students and the European Students’ Union condemned the move, claiming that under the new system students would accumulate greater debts, or have to work during their studies, hence risk prolonging the time to graduation.

Under the proposed changes, students would start to repay their study loans once they earned more than the minimum wage. The loan, which would have a fixed interest rate, would be repaid over 35 years.

Protest action

Student unions and an organisation of students and staff called ‘The New University’ (for a democratic university) took part in the national day of action while a group occupied one of the University of Amsterdam’s buildings.

In an open letter published by openDemocracy – “a digital commons not a magazine” – academics from Amsterdam and Leiden universities said the Netherlands was “a mere 10 years behind the UK but seems eager to catch up”.

“Twin pressures of authoritarianism from above and neo-liberalism from below make it necessary to develop the democratic alternative put forward by the movement for a new university,” the academics wrote.

“The structural similarities [between the Netherlands and the UK] are striking: in 1999, the Labour government of Tony Blair introduced tuition for university education at the moderate level of £1,000. Within little more than a decade, undergraduate tuition had exploded to nine times its original level. This is privatisation in all but name.

“Thanks to the students and their protests we are now in a political moment where these questions are on the public agenda, where what seemed utopian and unrealistic two weeks ago has become a real possibility.”

Academics and students have called for “fully-elected and accountable university boards”, a roll-back of cuts to the humanities, cancellation of a proposal they say would jeopardise the jobs of dozens of teachers in the humanities, and of mergers of subjects and disciplines “in attempts save money”.

The student and staff occupation of the university building started on 13 February, disrupting the work of several hundred students and staff who work or take classes there.

The occupation was endorsed in a website calling for national and international support for the student demands. The action has received the backing of European academics, members of parliament and trade unions.

Court order ignored

Initial response from the university was to take the occupying staff and students to court and demand they leave or pay a fine of up to €100,000 a day. The court subsequently ordered the students to leave and pay €1,000 in fines per day for any prolonged occupation.

After the students ignored the court order, police evicted the occupiers, leading to 46 arrests. The following day students occupied another building, the academic senate house, and at the time of reporting were still there.

Several stakeholders met the students and tried to persuade them to stop the protests. They included the president of the university’s executive board, the mayor of Amsterdam, the police chief and parliamentarian Jasper van Dijk

Education Minister Jet Bussemaker met a delegation of students to discuss the protests. Bussemaker said in a television interview that she was against the trend of “rendement [efficiency and production] thinking” in higher education.

Attracting broad attention

Professor Hans de Wit of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences told University World News that it was interesting how a still relatively small but gradually expanding protest by students was attracting broad attention in politics and the media.

“This cannot be explained only by the reference to the student protest movement and occupation of the Maagdenhuis [Senate House] in 1969,” De Wit said.

“It is a manifestation of a broad discontent with the focus on rendement thinking in Dutch higher education and the lack of democracy since 1997 with the abolition of student participation on university boards, and with the boards and deans being appointed by external supervisors. In this it reflects the increasing discontent in Dutch society with politics and privatisation, which also explains the broad attention to the protests.”

Meanwhile, the government has backed down on some of its proposed changes and postponed others until 2018, while the University of Amsterdam has announced that it will allow one student representative to join the university’s executive board.

University World News

Rise of the income contingent loan

Geoff Maslen 06 March 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 357

A little more than 25 years ago, an Australian economist called Bruce Chapman devised a brilliant scheme that allowed the federal government to impose tuition fees on the nation’s university students without them having to pay a cent upfront. Now that scheme is being adopted by countries around the globe. A little more than 25 years ago, an Australian economist called Bruce Chapman devised a brilliant scheme that allowed the federal government to impose tuition fees on the nation’s university students without them having to pay a cent upfront.

What became known around the world as the Higher Education Contribution Scheme, or HECS, now called an Income Contingent Loan programme, took some of the heat out of an increasingly angry debate over making students pay for their degrees. Up until that time, the cost of going to university in Australia was minimal.

The fact that students could defer paying tuition fees until they graduated, and then only if their annual income reached a certain level, silenced the critics who had argued fees would deter the most disadvantaged students and lead even those better off into eventual penury.

Today, as Professor Chapman points out in a feature in this edition of University World News, at least eight countries are using variations of income contingent loans to make higher education more accessible to the young and old. Even the US Congress is considering a bill to introduce an income contingent loan scheme there.

Chapman goes further: he says such loan systems could be adopted in other fields, ranging from recompensing poor countries for skilled migrant emigration and legal aid for civil disputes, to a profit-contingent loan arrangement for R&D for small and medium enterprises, or covering the payment of low-level criminal fines, or out-of-pocket healthcare costs.

Plans by the Netherlands government to adopt a similar system to cover university fees, however, have generated widespread student and academic protests – as University World News correspondent Jan Petter Myklebust reports in a News article in this edition.

There is one catch to a deferred repayment system, however: the amount that current and former Australian students owe the government is nearing A$30 billion (US$24 billion) and it seems likely that 20% of that huge sum will never be repaid. That is because many graduates will never reach the income threshold at which a tax surcharge begins to apply – currently around A$53,000 a year – others will die while yet others may leave Australia and never return.

Chapman back in the news

Now Chapman is back in the news with a suggestion that could help the deeply unpopular conservative government of Tony Abbott break a deadlock in the Australian Senate preventing the introduction of a deregulated fee system for universities.

A majority of senators have refused to pass a bill that would give vice-chancellors the freedom to fix their own fees, which are currently set by the government.

Deregulation as proposed by the government has led to fears that the top eight research-intensive universities could impose charges far above those of lesser institutions. They, in turn, would be forced to offer cheaper tuition to attract students and this could eventually end up costing them money and even send some into bankruptcy.

Under the Chapman proposal, universities could still set their own fees but they would face a “levy” if they raised the charge above a fixed sum. That is, their government grants would be cut by the amount they overcharged students.

In a submission to a Senate inquiry into the bill, Chapman notes that after HECS was introduced in Australia in 1989, fees charged by universities increased from effectively zero to around A$3,000 (US$2,350) a year in 2015, yet there was no impact on student demand and enrolments actually increased after HECS was instituted.

But he says that when New Zealand introduced its version of HECS in 1991, universities were allowed to set whatever prices they wanted. A later government was then forced to impose price caps after eight years because the charges had increased by at least 300% for arts, and much more in other fields.

Likewise, when the UK government allowed price caps to increase from £3,000 a year per full-time student to £9,000 a year in 2011, 95% of the universities had raised their tuition charges to the highest level.

“My view is that there is no clear economic justification for public sector universities to be allowed the use of a government instrument such as HECS to raise substantial revenue, in a situation in which this can lead to unjustifiably high fees,” Chapman says in the submission.

“An informed guess is that if Australian universities were to charge the sort of prices that I believe many of them could under the planned fee deregulation, the revenues received would in many cases far exceed the costs of teaching.”

Instead, under the new levy proposal, universities would still set their own fees but if the price imposed exceeded a government-set figure, there would be a reduction in the overall government grant to the institution. And, to ensure the control over price-fixing worked, the cut in grants would become increasingly more severe the higher the charge imposed.

“It is essentially a conditional market-based reform, very similar to proposals... provided to the UK government on fee deregulation in 2010,” Chapman says.

“Importantly, the sort of policy approach suggested would retain the benefits that deregulation seeks to achieve: the ability of our higher education institutions to offer quality services for students in a differentiated higher education system, and one in which institutions can pursue their own strategies to attract and retain students.”

He then concludes: “Critically, though, policies such as this scheme, if designed well, have a real potential to limit price rises to socially reasonable and fair levels.”

The National Tertiary Education Union, however, disputes Chapman’s claims about the effectiveness of a levy. In a submission to a Senate inquiry, the union says the proposed ‘tax on fee increases’ will not only fail to achieve its stated objective of taking the heat out of excessive fee increases, but that it will add unnecessary complexity to the funding system, “making it ripe for manipulation and gaming”.

University World News

Yet again, SAT scores in Asia withheld because of cheating

Yet again, SAT scores in Asia withheld because of cheating

By Valerie Strauss March 2, The Washington Post

For the fourth straight month, SAT scores in Asia are being withheld because of concerns that students cheated — and, it turns out, some of the scores withheld last year still have not been released. In the most recent case, some or all of the scores from the January administration of the exam in Asia are being withheld, as were some scores from the October, November and December exams taken in Asia.

How many scores? The College Board, which owns the SAT, and the Education Testing Service, which administers the exam, won’t say.

Which countries? They won’t say.

What are they doing to find the culprits and stop the cheating? They won’t say.

Spokesmen for the College Board and the ETS, repeatedly asked for specifics, have said they cannot provide them for security reasons. Repeated requests for interviews with leaders of both organizations on the issue of SAT test security have not been granted.

This problem is now years-old; for example, the College Board canceled the entire May 2013 administration of the SAT and SAT Subject tests in South Korea because of a leak of questions. Since October, scores have been withheld from every administration of the test. One school in China, the Shanghai American School, posted a message Feb. 13 on its website that said in part:

No shocker there

For those who took the January SAT last month, you undoubtedly received an email the College Board informing you that the scores will be delayed for 5 weeks, I’m not shocked by this. I am shocked that the College Board sent us an email on the same day that they sent an email to test takers because they have not done this in the past.

The last two blog posts on this site hopefully have helped you gain some clarification of whether to take the SAT or switch to the ACT.

Some students in Asia have been complaining to the College Board and the ETS that December scores have not yet been released, and they are concerned — for good reason — because college admissions decisions are approaching. One school, Amherst College in Massachusetts, posted a message about the delayed scores on the school’s website, saying in part:

Please note that it is possible that delayed score reports will not arrive before we render admission decisions, especially for January testing. As the First-Year Application Requirements section of our website states: “Testing should be completed by the appropriate deadline (either ED or RD); in particular, Regular Decision applicants should be aware that the results of January testing may not reach us in time to be considered.” We will do our best to accommodate any applicants affected by the delay in score reporting, but we cannot guarantee that we will be able to consider delayed scores in our admission decisions. To ensure that your scores reach our office as soon as possible, you must take prompt action to notify us of your results once your scores are released (as described above).

The next SAT is scheduled in Asia for May.

Most if not all of the cheating is believed to stem from the fact that the SAT exams given in Asia were previously given in the United States. Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the nonprofit National Center for Fair & Open Testing, known as FairTest, has pieced together how the cheating occurs, from reports by counselors and people who work in test prep companies in China and South Korea, and (as I have published in earlier pieces on this subject) this is how it is down:

— Test prep companies have employees or partners in the United States obtain recently administered SAT exams, including those that are officially “undisclosed,” either by copying illegally obtained test forms or compiling content from information about individual items shared on chat boards such as Some even take the tests themselves.

— Test prep firms overseas maintain complete databases of questions and correct answers from previously administered tests. They use these to train their regular clients (also illegal if they use questions that have not been disclosed). Such test-prep “services” are heavily advertised on Chinese language websites such as Taobao, QQ and Wechat.

— On SAT day, the firms have people sit for the test at Asian sites in time zones several hours ahead of China (e.g. Auckland, New Zealand is five hours ahead of Beijing), memorize the first few items, then take a “bathroom break,” from which they call or text that information to their superiors. The firms consult their database and identify the test being administered in China later that day.

— A list of correct answers is then transmitted to paying clients by simple technologies, such as emailing the file to their cell phones or loading it on programmable calculators that students are allowed to use in the test center.

This note about the January test scores is on the College Board website:…/yet-again-sat-scores-in-as…/

All students should get public subsidy’ – Report

‘All students should get public subsidy’ – Report

Geoff Maslen, 26 February 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 356

All post-secondary students should be entitled to a public subsidy that would enable them to undertake tertiary studies in the vocational education and training area or in higher education, says a new report. All post-secondary students should be entitled to a public subsidy that would enable them to undertake tertiary studies in the vocational education and training area or in higher education, says a new report.

This would require extending Australia’s income-contingent loan scheme, widely known as HECS, to all school-leavers.

Under the scheme, guaranteed funding support for tertiary education to a particular qualification level through course subsidies and access to an income-contingent loan would be available to eligible young Australians between the ages of 18-24 years.

The loan would apply from certificate-level courses to full undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications designed for entry to professions.

Income-contingent loans

Students taking out a loan could directly enter degree courses, or transition through certificate, sub-degree, undergraduate and up to postgraduate qualifications. As with HECS, they would repay the loan via a tax surcharge once their annual income reached a certain level – currently around A$54,000 a year (US$42,000).

The report Financing tertiary education in Australia was prepared by Professor Peter Noonan and Dr Sarah Pilcher of the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy at Victoria University in Melbourne.

It was launched in Melbourne on 25 February by Business Council of Australia chief executive, Jennifer Westacott.

Westacott endorsed the general thrust of the report but warned that older Australians wanting to upgrade their knowledge and skills also needed to be catered for.

"How we educate, train and retrain is going to be the absolute game changer in keeping countries, and the people within them, productive, competitive and prosperous," she said.

"I think what we all want is a system where the pathways are there for people to move seamlessly across different parts of an integrated tertiary education system.”

Noonan said the current tertiary funding system was skewed towards support for students at universities and, in many cases, vocational students were ineligible for government support, despite increases in vocational education course costs.

Stressful choices

"Some young people face very stressful choices when deciding to enrol in vocational or higher education. Often, it comes down to which one provides a level of government support and which doesn't," he said.

"In some cases, that young person can end up making an inappropriate choice because it has a level of subsidy attached to it. Even worse, they may not pursue tertiary education at all because university isn't an option and they can't afford vocational education."

Under the scheme outlined in the report, the researchers say that financial responsibility for all sub-degree and degree level qualifications, regardless of the sector in which they were delivered, would rest with the federal government.

The government would also provide income-contingent loans and income support to students on a needs basis.

Australia’s eight states and territories would then be responsible for funding certificate-level courses in public technical and further education institutions or through private providers. The courses would include apprenticeships, other forms of entry-level training, and post-trade training.

“Older learners or ineligible learners could still access subsidised qualifications at the discretion of each jurisdiction,” the report says.

It adds that the scheme would be based on a recognition of the interrelationship between the higher education and vocational education sectors.

Extend entitlement

“A clear ‘entitlement’ to public support for school education has been widely accepted policy for more than a century,” Noonan and Pilcher write.

“Now we need to extend that acceptance to tertiary education. It is here that advanced skills are formed – the kind of skills needed to effectively participate in, and contribute to Australia’s advanced dynamic, globalised economy and its changing complex and increasingly sophisticated society.”

The report says that for these reasons tertiary education should be defined as spanning certificate-level qualifications in vocational education through to postgraduate coursework qualifications in higher education.

As well as a separation in qualifications, the proposed scheme would mean a division of tertiary education funding roles and responsibilities between the federal government and the state and territory administrations.

At present, the federal government provides public support for higher education students, while the states and territories primarily fund vocational education and training.

In 2013, however, the states spent A$3.9 billion on vocational education while the federal government also allocated A$2.5 billion.

University World News