George Osborne’s budget today… I cannot comment on the amendments to working tax credit or to the changes to income and inheritance tax as these are issues that do not currently affect me. What I can comment on, however, is the adjustment to the student loan system which I am more than familiar with having just completed my second year at university. The key change here is that the maintenance ‘grants’ which have previously been administered to students from lower income households will now be scrapped and replaced with additional loans.
Maybe Osborne has forgotten about the debt his previous government has burdened the student population with.
My issue is this: university is outrageously expensive. I pay £9,000 per year as a UK student for less than six hours contact time a week, to sit in a 50 minute lecture and read notes off a power point slide that the university pays an annual Microsoft subscription for. I have a personal tutor that I have met once, who would not know me if I passed him in the street, and I often find myself around assessment periods struggling to get hold of a key module text because there are only two copies in the library with no electronic version available.
Besides all of that, I would never choose not to be at university because, admittedly, I enjoy studying history. I am sure this is the same for most students who will be faced with a debt of £27,000 in tuition fees, without even considering the extra £10-15K maintenance loan on top of that sum (approx). I am at university with the thought that by spending all of this money, it will eventually pay off in assisting me in the career of my choice. This is teeth-biting optimism, especially in a highly competitive and difficult jobs market, however, I remain hopeful.
A maintenance grant does two things:
1) It reassures families on low income households that their son/daughter will be financially secure and releases the pressure felt by parents that they need to scrimp and save to the last penny to support their child.
2) It incentivised going to university. A key agenda for the government is to raise the number of people from lower household incomes and poorer backgrounds in higher education. A grant encourages young adults from these socio-economic backgrounds that they have an equal opportunity to go onto university, and that they will be financially secure at the same time.
I am guilty of moaning about the limited student ‘loan’ I receive and the student finance system as a whole. I firmly believe that each student should have their rent entirely covered for the year which would be much fairer and equal. This would ensure students are on an equal financial footing, preventing students from the middle income bracket worrying about rent prices because their maintenance loan does not cover it. I specifically believe this would relieve pressure off of parents who do struggle to throw in the extra £200 each month and would help to make the student more financially independent.
I do, however, think it is absolutely fair that those from a lower income background should receive some assistance in the form of a grant, rather than a loan. If the government wants to increase the debt students pay, show us where that money is going. Every student is already in enough debt as it is paying off ‘loans’ – at least when students received a grant they feel safe in the knowledge that they do not have to pay it back. I have most definitely struggled to see where my £18,000 has gone based on some of the reasons stated previously.
Removing grants in their entirety will only make university seem even more financially daunting than it already is. A policy like this will only discourage the very individuals the government wants to see at university from attending. We live in a society that should help where it can, and the replacement of a maintenance ‘grant’ with more loan is fundamentally wrong. It does not make university more enticing and it fails to diversify the university system with a broader pool of applicants from low income backgrounds.