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NUS snaps at maintenance grant scrap

Maintenance grants for students in the poorest threshold replaced by a "lifetime debt"

Plans came to effect on Monday for additional loans to replace the full maintenance grants which had so far been given to students with a low household income. These plans won the approval of a parliamentary committee in January of this year and have been justified as a way to relieve the pressure lying on taxpayers.

Functioning on the same pattern as tuition fee loans, the replacement loan new students from poor households will be offered instead of the current full maintenance grant of about £3,500 is to be repaid once the graduate earns over £21,000.

This change in national student funding follows the recent announcement that tuition fees will rise up to £9,250 in some universities, and was immediately condemned by NUS Vice President for Higher Education Sorana Vieru. Vieru warned against the counterproductive impact of scrapping grants and leaving graduates with a “lifetime debt” at a time when access policies are being multiplied in order to increase the percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“It could put off students from underprivileged backgrounds from applying.”

Sorana Vieru

According to Vieru who spoke on BBC Breakfast, “It could put off students from underprivileged backgrounds from applying, who might not understand how the loan system works, or are very debt-averse.

“We also know that mature students are way more debt-averse than younger students,” Sorana Vieru added, “and BME students perceive student debt on a par with commercial debt.”

Announcing the change in his 2015 budget speech, George Osborne who was then Chancellor explained, “There is a basic unfairness in asking taxpayers to fund grants for people who are likely to earn a lot more than them.”

With George Osborne’s point of view more recently reiterated by the Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute Nick Hillman stated that this change would ultimately work to the students’ advantage.

“In the past they had about £7,500, in future they will have £8,200,” he told the BBC. “But it will all have to be paid back if they get a well-paid job, whereas in the past around £3,000 or so did not have to be paid back.”

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