A group of some 30 students are determined to continue their Occupy Dataran Merdeka protest against burdensome study loans.
The students are insisting on their constitutional right to freedom of assembly, which they believe trumps KL City Hall regulations, to carry on the sit-in.
The tent protest began on Saturday and has seen KL City Hall enforcement officers scuffling with the students, who are determined to continue their protest against the PTPTN tertiary education study loan scheme.
High study loans are contributing to mounting household debt in the country. The students are insisting that higher education should be free. In a sense, the students’ protest is a critique of the neoliberal approach of curbing government spending on essential services like education and health care and getting users (students and patients) to bear the financial burden.
PTPTN study loans were introduced in 1997 following moves to ‘corporatise’ institutions of tertiary education in the country. This has seen the gradual removal of subsidies in higher education, thus shifting the burden of financing higher education from the government to the students/public.
For a typical three-year arts degree course in a public university, a student now has to take a RM19500 study loan (RM21000 for a science degree). Loans are repayable six months after the course is completed. Typically, the loan has to be repaid in 120 monthly instalments over 10 years.
All study loans are charged an administrative cost of 3 per cent based on the outstanding principal balance. (That works out to a total admin charge of RM3000-plus.)
If a borrower is unemployed or if his or her finances are unstable after the course has been completed, the borrower may apply for a deferment of the repayment. But the 3 per cent annual administrative cost will still be charged for the entire duration of the deferment.
Aggravating the problem is the rising number of unemployed graduates and diploma holders. The number has doubled to around 100000 since 2008.
Just for ‘fun’, let’s compare the above with the ‘cow’ loan scheme:
Loan from the government for NFC signed in 2007 (The Star)
Total loan: RM250m
Repayment period: 20 years
Grace period for repayments: 3 years
(First drawdown: RM7m in January 2008; therefore, first repayment due in 2012)
Interest payable: 2% p.a.
No prizes for figuring out which is the more attractive proposition: investing in cows and condos OR embarking on a three-year undergraduate degree course.
No wonder the country is in the state it is in!