Over the past few weeks many of you have been in touch regarding a variety of issues, but one thing stood out, and that was how concerned so many of you are about the proposed move from student grants to student loans.
I can’t even begin to tell you how important this issue is to me, as an MP of a constituency with thousands of students, as someone who worked at a university, and someone who went to university.
So, on January 19th, I took part in the debate on the troubling Government proposal to replace student maintenance grants with loans. If this Government’s proposal is successful, it would amount to over half a million students losing their right to a student grant. As many of you will be aware, at the moment students who go into higher education from families with an annual income of £25,000 or less are eligible for the full grant of £3,387, and students from households with an annual income of between £25,000 and £42,620 are eligible for a partial grant. Sadly, it is these students that have become a target for spending cuts.
Providing maintenance grants has enabled students from low income families to access higher education. Despite the fact that this government have spoken endlessly about rewarding those who want to achieve, they are at the same time making it more difficult for students from lower income families to have access to affordable education.
I am worried that this move will dissuade some students from pursuing higher education altogether. The increased fees in 2012 have meant that students and graduates now contribute 75% towards the overall costs of their higher education, compared to 25% previously. On average, the replacement of grants by loans will further increase the contribution of individuals by an extra £6,000. My key concern is that students from low income families, who cannot rely on their family for financial support, will be unable to contribute to the cost of their education and ultimately could be unable to complete their courses or degrees.
Another alarming aspect of this proposal is that it was introduced without any consultation with students, the higher education sector or the public, and the Government’s own Equality Impact Assessment even though it reveals a concerning risk to the participation of students from poorer backgrounds, women, BME students, mature students, disabled students and Muslim students. How they can pursue such a policy in light of this information alone is beyond me.
Their own report acknowledges that because women are more likely to be single parents they will be less able to combat these changes with increased employment; and the report also acknowledges that single mothers will feel the impact in a greater way.
I would like to share as well some stories I received from you all too. For example Sarah who received a full maintenance grant during her time at University, as she was brought up by her single mother whose household income was significantly less than the amount required to receive a maintenance grant.
Sarah told me:
“If the grant had not been available to me, there is a very real possibility that I would not have been able to attend university, as the standard maintenance loan (plus money I earned in part time jobs) would not have been enough to cover the cost of living. I am immensely grateful for the opportunities given to me, and think it is vital that others should not be denied this experience which has transformed my life. I am now a graduate with a first class honours degree.”
Another student, Charlotte, told me:
“I graduated in 2014, but prior to this no one in my family had finished their GCSEs, never mind attended university… I was a free-school mealer and depended on EMA throughout my A levels, but I was fortunate enough to receive the maximum loan and grant. The grant too signalled to my mum that the government thought it was a worthwhile venture, and she took it as a seal of approval. What I'm trying to express is that this rather back-handed scrapping of grants seems to send a message that children from low-income backgrounds are no longer worth investing in”.
I received many emails from constituents with similar stories, and it saddens me that students like Sarah and Charlotte, up and down the country, will now be denied the vital support they deserve.
If you have any stories similar to those of Sarah and Charlotte, I urge you to share them with me.