As the Conservatives enter government without the moderating force of the Liberal Democrats, ideas they were previously prevented from executing are now returning to the agenda. One of these policies was to remove the means tested student support grant students receive alongside their student loans.
The department of Business, Innovation & Skills currently has no ring-fenced spending, and with the government running a deficit it is keen to find easy savings. However, the case that is being made for cutting the grant is rather dubious. Some might even suggest it’s one of the first ‘ideological’ cuts of this government and it’s likely the changes will harm thousands of students and not say any money in the long run.
Millions of student rely on grants to support themselves at University and reducing the grant will only increase hardship. Under the current system, students receive a mixture of loan and grant, both means tested. A student could expect to receive up to £5,555 in loan, topped up by up to £3,387 in grant. The NUS stated in 2010, that the average University accommodation costs £4,834 per academic year, factor in other living costs and there is very little, if anything left. For many students, what they receive from student finances goes straight into the pockets of landlords.
The reduction of the grant is unlikely to be made up in whole by the increase in loan. Without the additional income these grants provide, many students would be unable to afford University. The system already assumes that everyone has the bank of mum and dad to fall back on, something that certainly isn’t true. The removal or reduction of the grant is likely to affect every student. The wealthiest students may lose out directly from student finance, and those on lower incomes who currently qualify for bursaries or scholarships, could lose as there is no guarantee Universities will make up the shortfall.
Cutting support grants will not reduce the deficit, if anything it will increase national borrowing. Reducing the level of grant and increasing the amount of loan may appear in the short term to reduce government spending, but in the long run it forces the government to borrow more and guarantee even more in student loans.
We’ve already seen how in the current loans system readjustments in repayments are already being discussed as the initial calculations appear to be drastically over estimated, how can we be sure this won’t happen with grants?
The case for these changes to the student grant are flimsy at best. Reducing the grant, in favour of more loans could put people off of University, increase the national debt and prove to be hugely expensive. That said, at this moment they are simply proposals and not set in stone. Hopefully the government will see sense, if not current students should be prepared to defend the grants that have been vital to many of our educations and vital to many of the next generation.