Want a degree for free? No problem - if you are a pensioner

It would be nice if all adult learners could have their tuition fees paid for by the state. But the fact is, the state can't afford it.

I'm going to write more on the UK welfare problem later this week, but amid all the talk about the removal of universal benefits from well-off pensioners and so on, I want to point you briefly towards an article in the Sunday Telegraph this week.

It tells the story of a nice-sounding lady called Christine Armstrong. Armstrong is 66. She has just completed a BA in English at Oxford and is now doing a Master's degree. She loves it. The "beauty of doing a degree in your 60s", she says, " is that you really want to do it." So, all the reading, which might be a chore for the young is a "great pleasure."

Your first thought, I dare say, will be that you are impressed. You will think it makes sense for the retired to keep themselves active of mind and body and you will know that those with a goal of some kind tend to live longer and be healthier than those who do not. But what if I told you that you are paying for Armstrong to keep herself busy?

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Under the new student loans system (I think of it as more of a progressive tax see my blog on it here but we'll call it a loan because everyone else does), no one on an income of under £21,000 has to pay back their student loans to the taxpayer.Armstrong has taken out a student loan to cover her tuition fees (the maximum is £9,000 a year).

She has also received a maintenance grant (£3,354 if your household income is under £25,000). Armstrong's pension income is under £21,000. The result? Her loans aren't actually loans. They are gifts from us to her. And rather large gifts too if she has taken the maximum every year, she is costing us over £12,000 a year. I'd love to live in an economy where this kind of thing was OK. Sadly we don't. We just can't afford this stuff.

You can read the original article here:'I'll never have to repay my student loan'.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.