It wasn’t too long ago that the news was awash with reports of the student protests, and the government’s plans to raise the cap on university fees to £9,000 a year. At the time, I was still in school and resigned to the fact that, upon reaching higher education, I would have to pay significantly more than my predecessors and more than the politicians who were allowing this to happen.
And now there are yet more changes being made to student loans and grants– but without nearly as much fanfare. With all of this seemingly happening ‘under the radar’, what will the new Tory budget mean for the average student?
Well, Osborne is replacing student grants with student loans, which can only mean more debt for the average student. In his bid to ensure the British economy’s future through further austerity measures, Osborne is reneging on promises made by the coalition government in 2010 and getting rid of the means-tested maintenance grants previously offered to Britain’s poorest students. However, he has attempted to balance this measure by increasing the maximum maintenance loan to £8,200.
While all of this may not seem like such a drastic measure in comparison to the initial raise in tuition fees to £9,000, these changes are going to have a lasting influence on students leaving college or sixth form, and their decision whether or not to even go to university. Chairman of the Sutton Trust, Sir Peter Lampl, said, “Shifting grants to loans may move them off the balance sheet, but it could also put off many low- and middle-income students and tip the balance against their going to university […] Since grants were reintroduced, there have been significant improvements in participation from full-time less advantaged students, and this will be put at risk by today’s budget plans.” What many forget is that the cost of university is more than just their tuition fees, it is the expense of living, socialising and generally partaking in the typical student lifestyle. And the poorest students at university may not be able to afford this much longer.
Many students from lower-income families are looking at this change as an increase of debt and are scared to take it on. Either they no longer see university as a viable option, or are looking solely to universities that will offer bursaries or monetary incentives to attend. This is not surprising when, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the poorest students will soon be leaving university with up to £53,000 worth of debt. Megan Dunn, the president of the National Union of Students, said, “Students living on beans and sketches about student poverty have become a punchline. But this isn’t a joke, it’s a national crisis.”
Not only are the poorest students going to be affected, but the IFS also indicates that the hardest hit will, in fact, be students from middle-income families, with graduates paying back an extra £6,000. It seems that these new government measures are heralding the return of elitism within higher education. So, student of today, while these may seem like small steps backwards, you can look forward to reduced social diversity amongst your peers, and get ready for even more debt to your name.
[Photo credit: Got Credit]