Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, recently presented Budget 2015 to the British Parliament. This plan includes the scrapping of the Maintenance Grant, to be converted into a loan from September 2016 onwards.
Maintenance Grants consists of an annual amount of £3,387 (max) to university students whose annual household income is £25,000 or less. This grant helps pay for basic living costs such as rent, food, transport etc. Unlike loans, this money does not have to be paid back. Mr Osborne’s reasoning behind abandoning this grant is because of the £1.57bn it will save per year. Here’s my view on the topic.
The majority of students who attend university take out a tuition fee loan that is equal to at least £27,000 in debt by the time they graduate. On top of this, many full time students take out a minimum of £4,418 per year from their maintenance loan. This is already a lot of money for someone from a poorer background to take out, but in the hope of attaining a good degree, many enter into this mountain of debt. Now, many less advantaged students will be forced into even more debt, because of their parent’s low income- something which they have no control over. This penalising principle means that poorer students will leave with more debt than those from a more privileged background, because of a financial situation beyond their authority.
Some may argue that although those taking out the converted maintenance grant will have to repay it, they will only have to do so once they earn above £21,000 per year. However, when also considering the mammoth amount of £27,000 and the original maintenance loan of £4,418 (per year of study) that they have to pay, there will be little disposable income left from someone earning £21,000 once these loans are deducted from their income. Even more so for someone living in London, where many career opportunities are and rent prices are extortionate.
Furthermore, chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, Sir Peter Lampl, notes that since the introduction of the grants, there have been participation improvements from students from less privileged backgrounds. Scrapping the grant could put this at risk, as well as discourage other young people from attending university in the future.
As mentioned previously, George Osborne claims that dismissing the maintenance grant will save an annual amount of £1.57bn. However, putting students into thousands of pounds worth of debt cannot surely be sustainable in the long run. There are articles that have already addressed this issue concerning the tuition fee loans, by stating that three quarters of students won’t be able to pay it off. This figure could rise amongst poorer students, as they will be in more debt than those without the converted grant. So although for the next few years there could be some money saved, it is not a viable decision in the long term, as many students will be unable to pay back the full loan. Furthermore, if countries such as Scotland, Sweden, and Norway can provide free higher education to their citizens, I don’t see why England (which is wealthier) cannot -at least- continue to provide maintenance grants for those who desperately need and rely on it.
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By Maxine Harrison