Student maintenance grants are to be scrapped, the Chancellor George Osborne announced today in the first Conservative-only Budget since 1996.
Under the Tories’ plans, maintenance grants, which are paid to students from low-income families, will be abolished from the 2016-17 academic year. The grants will be replaced by maintenance loans, which will begin to be paid back by students once they start earning over £21,000 per year. The maximum level of maintenance loan available will be raised to £8,200 under the new system.
Under the current system, students with a household income of less than £25,000 a year are eligible for a non-repayable maintenance grant of £3,387. The amount available decreases as household income increases thereafter, with an income cut off point for support of £42,620. Currently, all students are eligible for maintenance loans, but the amount received varies according to household income.
It was also announced that tuition fees will be allowed to rise with inflation above £9,000 per annum beginning in the academic year 2017-18 at universities that can demonstrate high quality teaching.
In relation to student maintenance, Osborne argued that there is “a basic unfairness of asking taxpayers to fund the grants of people who are likely to earn a lot more than them.” The Chancellor added that the cost of the maintenance grant system was economically unsustainable, and that “if we don’t tackle this problem then our universities will become underfunded and our students won’t get places – and I’m not prepared to let that happen.”
OUSU’s Executive Committee commented that they were “appalled to learn that the government is considering cuts to maintenance grants for students from low-income households. For many students, maintenance grants are a vital means to live, enabling them to access a university education, especially in a city as expensive as Oxford. A significant reduction in the support available to students from low-income households would be devastating to the work of the University to reach out and inspire young people from all backgrounds to apply to Oxford. We call upon the government to defend a vital element of access to higher education and reconsider this possible move.”
Jan Nedvídek, the President of the Oxford University Conservative Association, told Cherwell, “Of course in an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to scrap maintenance grants – as someone with low household income, I have myself benefited from them hugely. However, this government has had to make some difficult decisions, and as we saw at the most recent election, there is a feeling in the country that these decisions are sensible and necessary. Being careful with your finances is not mean, but a requirement of basic economic common sense.
“I’m acutely aware that students from poorer backgrounds are finding it difficult to cope with the costs of university. However, let’s be honest here: you only have to repay these loans if you earn above the national average, which you are much more likely to do with a university degree than without one. What’s fair about asking someone on low income to pay for my degree through their taxes? What’s fair about shifting the cost of my education to the next generation through borrowing?
“This budget introduces several great things, like a national living wage for those on the lowest incomes, and scrapping the non-dom status. And let’s remember – according to the Office for National Statistics, those with a degree earn on average 12k per annum more than those without one. This means that on average, your degree will earn you roughly half a million pounds over the course of your life. I think some contribution to the cost of your education is not unreasonable.”
However, Megan Dunn, NUS President, told Cherwell, “Cutting maintenance grants is going to be detrimental to hundreds of thousands of our poorest students who currently rely on them, and risks putting many people off applying to university.
“We know that our poorest students are the most likely to be deterred by debt, but it could also affect where students choose to live and which courses to take. It will mean staying at home instead of moving into halls or shared accommodation and applying for shorter courses to reduce costs.
“More and more cuts are happening at a time when there is a cost of living crisis. NUS research has shown rent for halls has doubled in recent years, and there has long been a shortfall between average living costs and student support income.”
An Oxford University spokesperson told Cherwell, “Oxford University will work to ensure that any changes to the student funding system do not deter students from disadvantaged backgrounds from applying to or choosing to attend Oxford. In addition to government support, low-income students at Oxford will be eligible for the most generous no-strings financial support of any university in the country, including generous bursary grants and reduced tuition fees for those with the lowest household incomes.”