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When Labour was a party that stopped student loans

George Foulkes, president of the Scottish Union of Students in 1966, and now junior minister for international development, warned the Labour government 30 years ago that any introduction of student loans would be "regressive" and cut the demand for places in higher education.

Students bitterly opposed the possible replacement of grants by loans and outlined a catalogue of reasons why ministers should maintain and enhance the existing system. The government was concerned that rising numbers of students entering higher education were placing an undue strain on public finances and was considering loans as a supplement to grants or to replace them.

But Mr Foulkes advised: "The general tendency of a purely loans system would be to militate against first generation students. Since these prospective students are unlikely to have parental guarantees, they will be much less likely to want to incur the large debt which the introduction of such a system would necessitate and therefore it would seem obvious that demand for places at institutes of higher education from such people would diminish."

In the Commons in November 1966, under questioning from the Tory benches, Tony Crosland, the Education Secretary, dismissed suggestions about replacing grants. Mr Crosland told MPs: "To be fair, one would have to say that there was a considerable volume of public opinion that some element of loan in the total system would be desirable in view of the growing volume of student support.

"I can only reiterate what I have said, that I have no present intention of replacing grants by loans. Indeed, if one is talking in terms of 'replacing', I cannot imagine that any Government would ever consider replacement, though I think that it is unrealistic to imagine that the question of a loan element can be kept out of at least general public discussion on these matters."

Weeks later, the Scottish Housewives' Association wrote to ministers demanding that students pay back grants or agree to teach or work in Britain for two years after graduating instead of fleeing the country.

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