UK Chancellor George Osborne has announced that the current maintenance grant is to be scrapped and replaced by a loans system, affecting students starting University in September 2016.
When the government tripled tuition fees in 2012, they attempted to soften the impact of breaking an election pledge (openly lying that they would not triple fees) by discussing the centrality of the maintenance grant to ensure that the most disadvantaged could still access higher education.
Megan Dunn, NUS national president said: “The government has continually denied the scrapping of maintenance grants would negatively affect students, particularly those from poorer backgrounds. This is just not true.”
According to the government’s own Equality Impact Assessment, the changes will particularly affect students from BME backgrounds, disabled students, older learners and women. The Institute for Fiscal Studies states that the change won’t improve government finances in the long run.
To add insult to injury, the government has forced through these sweeping changes – which were not in the Conservative election manifesto – in a delegated legislation committee rather than on the floor of the House of Commons, hidden away from public scrutiny.
There is a real risk that the brightest students from poorer backgrounds will be deterred from utilising their talents and attending university due to the prospect of such high levels of debt. It could also affect where students choose to live and the courses they uptake. It will result in staying at home instead of moving into halls or shared accommodation and applying for shorter courses to reduce costs.
If grants are cut, it could be a double blow as student loans costs could go up for all or repayment conditions could become ever more onerous – creating yet another barrier to higher education.
This is a highly regressive move from the government and one which will impact hundreds of thousands of young people – this year over half a million students are receiving maintenance grant support.
Niraj Thakrar, NHSF (UK) PR Team Co-ordinator said: “Access to education is a universal human right, and successive governments have worked to systematically take this away. University education should not only be for those who can pay the most for it, however the scrapping of maintenance grants means that many students will have to take on enormous debt to put themselves through further education.”
Madhav Dave, NHSF (UK) Learning Team Co-ordinator adds: “Even though my work revolves around education and finding out more about my roots, I wouldn’t be where I am without higher education. Every culture emphasises that it is education that is the fire that sparks a youth to change his life and the world around them. University is a privilege that must not be limited to those who can afford it. The cure to cancer, the next big technological breakthrough or major artistic work might be locked away in the mind of someone who was robbed of the opportunity of higher education. And somewhat ironically, we can’t afford that.”
We are clear that the government should be doing all it can to ensure that those from the poorest backgrounds reach their full potential, whether that is going into higher education – via university or further educational institutions – or getting a good quality apprenticeship.
Cutting off student maintenance grants and asking students to amass even more debt is definitely not the way to achieve this.
We stand with our fellow students and urge all our members to write to your local MP using the letter on the link below.
Enough is enough – we are the future of this country and we deserve to have a voice. #standupandbeheard #CuttheCosts
– Prashil Shah