Students and prospective students are facing an unprecedented strain as a result of the government’s summer budget pledging to scrap maintenance grants from the 2016-17 academic year. Currently at a maximum level of £3,387 per year, the grant assists students with living costs for accommodation and food. Maintenance grants are awarded to students from households on less than £42,650 per annum with the maximum amount being given to those on less than £25,000.
The government plans to the tackle the lack of maintenance grants by extending loans. Currently, the maximum amount available in loan and grant combined is £7,424. From 2016, George Osborne proposes that the maximum loan available will be £8,200 – a considerable increase but one which is due to be paid back.
Despite the funding still being available, the scrapping of grants is not compensated by the access to money staying in place. The prospect of repaying loans is daunting and adding what for some could be more than £10,000 to that standing loan could indeed be sufficient to put someone off going to university. ‘Financial support’ isn’t labelled as such for the finance alone. George Osborne is unable to effectively argue that students’ experiences will be unaltered at university because of the distinction between what the government does and the way is does it. The increase of loans necessary to sustain some students will be daunting and attached with it a debt that will subtract from future income beyond its current expectation.
For perspective – as result of the government measures, someone who took a three year course and on a sizable salary of £50,000 per annum would have to continue paying off loans for a further four years. For someone earning an income of £30,000, the debt would take a further 13-14 years to pay off.
Given the amount of benefits available to students for going to university, it is difficult to argue that there shouldn’t be a price tag added to it. Society benefits from education but the individual student likewise benefits both in terms of future income and in terms of personal experience. Payment should be organised so that people can study at university uninfluenced by their income. Adding thousands in loans and scrapping grants indicates a step backwards in this aim.
For students from families with lower incomes, there is pressure to study the subjects that lead to jobs with a higher salary expectancy, whether that is their preferred degree subject or not. Alternatively, they note the increase in the cost of university and decide they aren’t willing to face that payment and do not attend as a result of the price.
For the education system, this reduces the pool of potential. Places in the education system become less competitive and instead of a meritocracy university places become more so allocated towards those that can afford the places at university.
On the government proposals York Law student, Nick Attwooll, said that the measures ‘demonstrate a system which blames the poor for being poor and seeks to entrap poorer students in debt so as to shackle them to their social status’. Psychology student, Lindsay Bolton, found the scrapping of maintenance grants to be ‘incredibly disappointing and a major step backwards – it is something which reinforces ability to pay as being advantageous in university attendance and is almost serves to demotivate all students regardless of income’.
The news of the scrapping of maintenance grants comes further as a disappointment after the hopes raised from last year’s autumn budget when it was announced that tuition loans would become available for master degrees from 2016.