Around half a million of the poorest students rely on maintenance grants, which range from £500 to £3400 per year, to help support them through University. Nestled in the first Conservative budget since 1996, alongside cuts to funding for nurses, cuts to tax credits for working families, but an increase in the inheritance tax threshold to one million pounds. It was announced that grants are set to be replaced by a higher student loan.
I begin this piece by saying that by no means is the current method of assessment for student finance perfect. There are discrepancies; students who have high earning parents who do not contribute to their education, students whose parents earn just above the cutoff for receiving a grant, but have many siblings so can’t contribute as much, I could go on. Because many students don’t receive grants themselves, they are apathetic to the issue. However, as a student community we must look out for each other. Together we are strong.
In the 1980s, when George Osborne went to University, students received a grant of £1430 with no tuition fees. Fast forward to 2016, students are saddled with £9000 in fees, plus the highest cost of living in recent history. It is inherently unfair, that those who went before us were effectively paid to go, but now it is our turn the ladder has been pulled up.
Students who receive the maximum amount of grant receive an additional £1281, which helps cover food, bills, travel, books, social events. It stops you from being limited by circumstance, from having to live in overdrafts or spend hours working which, if you study a busy course, could endanger your degree.
Instead there will be a higher amount of student loan, up to £8200, all of which should be repaid.
Initially, this may seem appealing to students, especially those who are not supported by their parents. With the ever increasing cost of living, it means that they have slightly more money. But, this is a change that disproportionately affects poorer students – they must borrow more than their supported counterparts, and as a result repay it for longer.
Students from poorer backgrounds will loose up to £10,200 funding over the course of a three-year degree. It makes the case for going to university harder to make; people who go to improve themselves by working for good degrees are left saddled with massive debts.
The point of a student grant is to make university more accessible for low-income students, by providing what their parents cannot. To try and level the playing field. The occasional grocery delivery, money for nights out, allowances, house deposits, emergency loans. It’s little things like this, that grants make up for.
But as we’re so often reminded, money isn’t free; it must come from somewhere. Increasingly austerity is given as the answer. I disagree. As pointed out by Jeremy Corbyn before his election, if instead of, in the same budget, Corporation Tax was not dropped from 20 per cent to 18 per cent, but instead raised to 20.5 per cent, by half a percent, higher education could be free for everybody. Imagine that.
In a society where people are better educated, with more skilled jobs and likely higher earners, the investment in higher education is more than repaid over a lifetime of higher income tax.
That is why I believe that investing in education is important. It benefits us all. And when it is threatened, we have to stand together campaign for what is right. Because together we can change things. We can make things better. Together we are strong.