Young people are becoming increasingly dependent on student loans, but they are struggling to repay them and an eventual increase in tuition fees poses a serious risk of creating persistent poverty, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said yesterday.
Despite the Ministry of Education’s move to maintain a freeze on tuition fees this year, the increasing number of students who are taking out loans to pay for schooling could create a cycle of persistent poverty among young people if the government fails to come up with a solution, the DPP legislative caucus told a press conference.
DPP Legislator Pan Men-an (潘孟安) said university and college students from poor families would suffer the most when an eventual increase to tuitions are pushed through, adding that the idea of having university presidents as final decisionmakers on future tuition fees was “unjust and irresponsible.”
Citing statistics from the ministry, DPP Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) said that among the nearly 780,000 students who applied for student loans last year, 19.4 percent attended public schools, while 80.6 percent attended private schools, which charge higher tuition.
Students would be left to shoulder a heavier financial burden if tuitions are raised, she added.
Data from the ministry showed that only 57.7 percent of families whose incomes were in the bottom 20 percent last year were able to send their children to university, compared with 83.8 percent of the families in the top 20 percent, DPP Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) said.
“The disparity shows that our educational resources are not being fairly distributed and we have to do something about it,” she said, adding that the DPP had proposed amendments to four education-related laws to help underprivileged students.
The DPP called on the government to serve as the guarantor for student loans and increase the number of scholarships for students from low-income families, Lin said.
Students should be able to repay their loans in proportion to their salaries after graduation, Lin said, adding that the DPP proposed that students should begin paying off their loans once their monthly salaries exceed 70 percent of the average wage in the industrial and service sectors, which is about NT$28,000 a month.
Lin also said the party had proposed that a student’s loans should be written off if they could not repay them in 25 years.
The government should ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to higher education because education offers the best way out of poverty, DPP Legislator Wu Ping-jui (吳秉叡) said.
“At the end of the day, equal education opportunities and resource distribution are the tools we have to fight and eliminate persistent poverty,” Wu said.