Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Scrapping the student maintenance grant will divide Britain

My view from the Bus
Newsnight has recently revealed Conservative government plans to scrap the student maintenance grant. At its most generous, this grant is worth nearly £3,500 (nearly the same as the full maintenance loan) and is only given in full to students whose household income is below £25,000 a year and is given to some half a million students each year, at least in part.

At most universities, the approx. £3,500 loan barely covers the cost of accommodation,  or not even that in some cases. If the grant is removed, where does that leave students who cannot rely on their parents? After rent they will have no money left to live on, or to buy course materials such as textbooks.

The government has failed to comment on how this scrapping will be implemented; whether they intend to replace the grant with an addition to the maintenance loan or scrap the additional support completely. The first scenario is understandable, if not strictly agreeable, as it will not create a cash flow problem, but will still unfairly saddle poorer students with larger amounts of debt. The second scenario is completely unacceptable, and will create a cash flow problem and force less-well-off students to get high interest commercial loans or even scare young adults from going to university due to the high levels of risk, purely for having the audacity to want a university education while not having rich parentsI see no scenario in which this won't prevent some less well off students from attending university.

Note: The "get a job" argument does not hold, unless you expect 500,000 jobs to spring from nowhere.

A 2013 paper from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills lists the many benefits of higher education: Social mobility, lower crime rates, increased tax revenue, economic growth, increased employability, engagement in democracy. These are only some of the fairly intuitive benefits of getting a higher education. If the government goes ahead with these plans, the divide between the wealthy and the non-wealthy will only get bigger.

If the changes go ahead, these advantages will fall by the wayside, not just for working and middle class individuals, but for society as a whole. If this gets passed, expect tax revenues to go down because of less people taking higher paying jobs that go with degrees. Expect economic growth to stagnate, as those who might be able to do groundbreaking research, innovation, and business enterprise, may now never get that opportunity. Expect crime to increase. We will run out of doctors and nurses, we need to encourage people to do medical service degrees, not disincentivise; the NHS is under enough strain as it is. I tried my best to make this section less scary, but the sad truth is that I'm not really exaggerating that much.

This cut will widen the divide between the rich and the not-even-that-poor; the government is reserving "The University Experience (TM)" for those only who can cough up the dough (from their parents), leaving everyone else being forced to live at home, severely limiting their choices of university. Students not from money will have to go to a local university or nowhere, even if they have the academic ability (higher or lower) to go to a further afield university.

What the government is doing, whether intentional or not, is dramatically raising the barrier to entry for a higher education and therefore impairing, or blocking, those not born to wealth. I know that without my grant I would not have been able to attend university, and without the continuation of the grant, the government are knowingly locking those not from a wealthy background out of higher education. Britain will no longer be able to say it is a nation that promotes equality. Individuals from low income backgrounds will suffer, society as a whole will suffer, and a nation will be divided by class if George Osborne goes ahead with these plans.

No comments:

Post a Comment