Chancellor George Osborne has announced the budget for 2015, and amongst new cost-cutting measures comes the news that maintenance grants for students from low-income families will be scrapped and replaced with loans. Alongside this, automatic entitlement to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds is being scrapped, and the new “National Living Wage” of £9 an hour will not apply to those under 25.
Under the current English student loan system, students from households with an annual income lower than £25,000 are entitled to a grant of £3,387, and from households with annual income between £25,000 and £42,620 there is a means-tested grant up to £3,387. Osborne also announced that Universities displaying “excellent teaching” will no longer have fees capped at £9,000 per year, and will be allowed to increase their fees in line with inflation.
Conservative politician Jo Johnson did not rule out the possibility of raising tuition fees or changing terms of existing student loans during this government’s term while speaking in parliament in June, and prior to the general election, William Hague said the Conservatives have not ruled out raising tuition fees to £11,500 per year.
Conservative policies have often targeted the young and the poor, and this year’s budget seems to be no different. Despite claiming to want to reduce debt, George Osborne has made the decision to increase the amount of debt students from low-income backgrounds will inevitably fall into. The route from school to university is already fraught with class and income-induced challenges, from affording travel to open-day visits to practicing for interviews for courses with high interest. Cutting maintenance grants will drive bright working-class children to question whether university is something they can afford. The move to increase university fees in line with inflation if they display “excellent teaching” further limits the diversity of students able to attend top institutions. As if Universities like Oxford and Cambridge weren’t elitist enough already.
Under the current tuition fee system, many young people already make the decision not to go to university, despite the fact that they would like to, because they are unable to afford it. An enormous amount more will be forced to make the same decision because of the scrapping of these grants.
There are already many ways in which access to higher education, and opportunities for graduate employment, are limited by financial situation, with a system that can seem to be asking “are you rich enough?” before “are you clever/competent/creative enough?”. These changes only seek to drive a further wedge between young people of different backgrounds, and reduce the potential for working class teenagers to progress through higher education.
I receive a maintenance grant myself, and it is very helpful to know that a small amount of the money I’m surviving on isn’t accumulating in the mountain of debt that awaits me after graduation. But for some, these grants are not just helpful, they are vital if they want to be able to pursue a University education. With their new budget, the Conservative government continues to reduce any opportunities for social mobility and further disenfranchise young people.
[Clare Patterson – @clurrpatterson]