Oxford polarised over 2014 Budget

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith has said Wednesday’s budget did “very little for students or young people”, amid criticism from the National Union of Students and Oxford activists.

In his Budget speech, George Osborne unveiled plans to provide financial support for apprenticeships, and praised the role of international students in the UK economy. However, some people have said that the Budget’s bigger announcements will do little for students. 

Andrew Smith, Labour MP for several of Oxford’s colleges, told Cherwell, “The budget did very little for students or young people. It was a budget aimed at better-off older people in an attempt by the Tories to win votes they had been losing to UKIP, while doing nothing to address the fact that the majority of people are worse off under this government. There was nothing to help people who are facing a cost of living crisis, and who are not seeing the benefits of the supposed economic recovery. On average workers are £1600 a year worse off under the Tories and Lib Dems.”

He added that the Coalition, “Has consistently shown that it is not on the side of young people and students. It has trebled tuition fees, cut higher education funding, scrapped EMA, cut funds such as the National Scholarship Programme and Student Opportunities and introduced immigration rules which make it harder for international students to study here.”

Smith’s comments followed broader student discussion of the Budget. On Wednesday the National Union of Students (NUS) issued a statement which said that the Budget, “Failed to follow through for students.”

The NUS expressed “support” for the proposal to fund 100,000 apprenticeships, but noted, “For these to be meaningful, thought needs to be given as to apprenticeship pay, which can legally be as low as £2.68 per hour.”

NUS President Toni Pearce said, “The government has acknowledged some important student issues but has failed to answer how they will follow through with some real action on their promises.

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“We are glad that the Chancellor recognises the enormous contribution that international students make to the UK, with our education sector representing one of the UK’s most successful exports. But this sadly isn’t reflected when the government continue to introduce shoddy legislation, such as the Immigration Bill, which sees international students being treated as a political football. 

“The Government also need to seriously think about how they will attract students to postgraduate courses when the costs are sky high and when there is limited financial support for this particular group of students.”

James Heywood, President of the Oxford University Conservative Association, responded to NUS’s stance.

“I am actually surprised at the mild tone of this NUS statement. Students who do not inhabit the Left of politics have often found the NUS to be unrepresentative and childishly unrealistic about policy. The fact that they have welcomed measures such as new apprenticeships and increased funding for attracting international students shows an unusual level of maturity, in my opinion. Far too often it has been the case that the NUS protests against everything this government has done for purely party-political reasons, rather than representing the views of its wider membership,” he told Cherwell.

Heywood welcomed Budget policies, noting “the announcement of over £200m of investment in science and engineering projects”, which “will be welcomed by many in the universities sector.” He said, “Policies like these can utilise the strength of our higher education institutions to boost economic growth and are an important part of our long term economic plan.” 

The Budget was Osborne’s fifth since the Coalition’s election in 2010, and included announcements of pension savings reform, an increase in the bottom tax threshold, and a welfare cap at £119bn for 2015-2016. Osborne also announced increases in the GDP forecast for next year.