Image: Tobi Olasupo
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own, and are not endorsed by Trident Media of Hertfordshire Students’ Union
[Oliver Price | News Manager]
Over 600,000 students in England receive nearly two billion pounds in maintenance grants between them. On Friday 15th of January, it took less than two hours for just ten out of eighteen MPs to scrap them.
While scrapping grants is a bad idea (more to come later), first it must but said that how the Conservatives know that their policy of scrapping maintenance grants, something they did not put in their manifesto by the way, is so unpopular that they actively tried to avoid the debate on it. Rather than putting the bill through the Commons debating process, the Conservatives decided to use something called a statutory instrument to allow the bill to skip the normal debate.
In fact, the only reason that the scrapping of grants was properly debated at all was because Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party, decided to dedicate the Opposition Day on the 19th of January to debate the subject.
Nearly two thirds of students that get maintenance loans also get grants, these two thirds will now have even more thousands of pounds worth of debt thrust upon them. This bill, which the Conservatives have absolutely no mandate to implement, is unfair and unnecessary.
Students from low to middle income backgrounds will now be forced to take out a much higher student loan than their more wealthy counterparts. Every student should theoretically be getting the exact same service, but because some students have wealthier parents who can subsidise them, they get to leave university with potentially over £10,000 less debt. The grants helped to correct this imbalance, as it meant that students from a lower income background weren’t heaped with even more debt than everyone else.
This extra debt could deter people from lower income backgrounds from attending university, and while the increase to 9K in tuition fees only saw a minor decrease in applications, continual increases and the fact that this only affects lower income people could well push people over the edge.
The Conservatives may be disincentivising the next Steven Moffat, or Stephen Hawking, or Stephen Fry from attending university; not necessarily on a huge scale but certainly on a personal scale.
Taking a break from the normal complaints that opinion writers like to lob around like a pig’s head at the Piers Gaveston Society, I thought that I might offer a solution (what is this madness?) to my incessant complaining about maintenance grants and loans. The current system is far from perfect, students from middle-income backgrounds often end up with less living money than their poorer background counterparts due to their parents still not being able to support them.
Every single British student should be entitled to the full amount of money available, which will be raised to £8,200 next year. However, depending on how wealthy or not one’s parents are, the ratio of the grant to loan should change. So, someone from a low income background might be offered a grant of £5,000 and a loan of £3,200; someone from a middle income £4,100 as a grant and £4,100 as a loan; someone from a higher income background may only be offered £1,000 as a grant and up to £7,200 as a loan. Each student can take as much or as little of the loan as they want, so if their parents are able to support them they do not need to take out a loan, which would be the intention.
The beauty of this system is that there isn’t the issue of “giving rich people free money,” but at the same time everybody can always get enough money to live on at university if, for whatever reason, a student’s more wealthy parents cannot or will not support them.
Even if this doesn’t ever happen, the current system of grants and loans is vastly superior to what will be implemented, taking away the grants. The cancelling of grants could disincentivise potentially socially mobile students from becoming more educated and the worst part is… the Conservatives don’t even care enough to have a debate.