Spy tactics of Student Loans Company
Young people applying for student loans are facing ‘KGB tactics’ during the application process, a senior British MP has said. The accusation comes after the chair of the Student Loans Company (SLC) admitted that the company spied on applicants on social media to investigate whether they were eligible for certain loans.
Each year, hundreds of students who have become estranged from the families and receive no financial support apply for full loan packages. Christian Brodie, chair of the SLC, told MPs in the UK parliament that they would investigate the students’ background to see if they were genuinely estranged, or were faking it. “If people have public sources of information about themselves then they must expect that will be looked at”, he said.
In one example, a student who applied for a full loan package because he claimed to be estranged from his family was denied when SLC spies found evidence in a Facebook post that he received a £70 Christmas present from his parents.
Labour MP Ian Mears said it was ‘unbelievable’ that the SLC withdrew any loan funding from the student because of the £70 gift, which didn’t represent an ongoing financial commitment. Conservative MP Robert Halfron likened the tactics to a KGB investigation, saying “surely that is an abuse. You’re creating a surveillance society. How can it be right to trawl people’s social media accounts?” “I find this really sinister, to be honest, because people don’t always use privacy settings and they might have deeply emotional issues or family trauma.”
Brain drain among Moroccan youth
There are fears of a Moroccan ‘brain-drain’ after nearly 40,000 students left the country to study in France in 2018. Last year around 36,000 made the same journey, making Moroccans the largest contingent of international students in Paris and other French cities.
This is despite a huge effort from the Moroccan government to keep their academic talent in the country, with plans to train 15,000 engineers at Moroccan universities in ten years. There are also ongoing efforts to teach young Moroccans from poorer backgrounds the digital skills they need to thrive in a new economy.
The problem is that French universities have a far greater reputation and, for Moroccans with money and good grades, the idea that they would study at a domestic university instead is absurd. Many are hoping to secure better paid positions in France, where employers value a French degree and often look down upon Moroccan accreditations, despite the country’s educational system getting stronger by the year.
Thierry Sibieude, director of ESSEC Afrique Atlantique in Rabat, said that his students all had dreams of going to France. On whether Moroccan institutions will be accepted, he said: “it will take time, at least five years, and without ever sacrificing our educational level and selectivity”.
Taiwan youth oppose army duty
Army officials in Taiwan are having trouble finding young recruits as the government moves away from conscription and towards a volunteer army. Conscription has been hugely unpopular among young people who have regularly protested against it, with more than 1,000 youngsters being prosecuted for avoiding the call to serve in the military.
Taiwan is now using a carrot instead of a stick. Young recruits are offered a free state-sponsored university degree, 110 days holiday a year, and payment of T$312,500 (around $10k).
But the approach doesn’t appear to be working, with young people questioning the purpose of conscription. Hsu Kai-wen, a 20-year-old graduate who was recently conscripted, told the press “we won’t win a war with China anyway, so why should I waste my time in the army?”
Another, 18-year-old Chen Fang-yi who is studying engineering, said: “China could simply crush Taiwan with its economic power. There’s no need for a war”. The Taiwanese military disagrees. It estimates that it needs 188,000 combat troops ready to repel a ground invasion by Chinese forces. It is also investing heavily in cyber defence and high-tech weapons to maintain relevance in the new era of warfare. In contrast to the Taiwanese, the French government is bringing back conscription, as President Macron hopes mandatory military service will help heal a country divided by race and religion.