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Debts? What student debts?

On Monday I attended an event at which Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation, and Skills, spoke. Set in the fairly splendid Portcullis House (part of the House of Commons), the event was hosted by Employment Relations - a firm of solicitors based in Kent.

It was interesting to hear Mr Cable talk about the Agency Workers Regulations, which come into force in October. In essence, these regulations give temporary workers the same rights as employed workers after an initial period of 12 weeks.

But what was more interesting (by far) was the question and answer session afterwards. The mood was relaxed until someone asked the question: ‘How do you think the large number of graduates with huge debts will impact the economy?’

Now, I have a lot of time for Vince Cable: PhD in Economics, top quality ballroom dancer (apparently), arch-nemesis of Rupert Murdoch. However, his response to this question annoyed me. He clumsily sidestepped the issue by suggesting that, as graduates are charged so little interest on their loans, and as only two-thirds of them actually pay their loans back, it isn’t really debt at all!

This has been the coalition’s line on graduate debt for a while now, but I’m afraid it doesn’t come as much consolation. Regardless of whether you believe that students should pay for their education, it is laughable to suggest that a debt of £20,000 is not a serious hindrance when almost four in ten graduates are putting major decisions on hold because of their debts.

Although the event was a success, the mood in the room did change slightly after Mr Cable’s remarks: the questions carried a more hostile edge, as people vented their resentment at the idea that graduates are getting an easy ride.

Fraser Mason is a consultant on the Interim Team at FreshMinds Talent