Maintenance grants on the out: but will we be worse off?

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As students, I’m sure many of us saw a red flag hoisted high upon the mention of scrapping maintenance grants from the 2016/17 academic year onwards. That said, it’s likely that a good selection of the apathetic masses weren’t even aware until the media started running with it; suddenly it’s back to class warfare, and the usual inferences of us all being in the workhouses until we drop dead.

If you can see past the morass of negative spin surrounding the changes to the funding system, there’s a distinct absence of any net negative. I begin with my own situation – this year I received £3,946 in maintenance loan, and £3,387 in grant, making for a total of £7,333. In doing away the grant element, I would stand to be offered £8,200 in loan, as opposed to the £7,434 grant. However you care to look at it, £766 would be quite a jump.

The present arrangements punish those who come from medium-income to well-off backgrounds – even those with any degree of financial comfort may have families who cannot also juggle putting a student through university as well, particularly so far as day-to-day expenses and rent go. The proposed changes in the budget will ultimately make it fairer on everyone in the long term – those who don’t need the loan to survive are under no obligation to borrow the entire amount, though that choice should be ultimately be down to the individual.

On that note of survival, it’s no secret that living independently as a student is a lot more difficult than many people are willing to give credit for – particularly living on campus. I commend LUSU for their cost of living campaign, as I too don’t believe that rent increases should be exorbitant and unjustified – these changes will at least offer that bit extra leeway as living costs go, whatever way University House decides to go.

I can understand LUSU’s position of wanting to keep things as reasonable as possible during our short time here (after all, I am simply yet another student who relies on every penny I get from Student Finance and the University), I realise that sacrifices get made so that you can become, and ultimately remain financially independent. While I may have the benefit of age and experience over some, many students come to university straight from the world of having their washing done, their mobile phones paid for, and quite frankly have no financial acumen. This lack of ability to manage finances seems to find many of them ultimately hopping aboard the next bandwagon the moment one of the usual suspects starts crying foul of the government’s treatment of students (usually after their loans have prematurely dried up, and overdrafts are maxed out).

Amidst all these negatives, there is talk of the ongoing (and expansion of) widening participation, which we are led to believe prompted the necessary cuts to the grant system. As much as we’re all quick to vilify the Tories, it was in fact Labour who brought in the grant system, binned it once, and then brought them back – they’ve ultimately become unaffordable as participation has increased.

While repayments of loans will continue to begin at £21,000, which, depending on your field, may or may not affect you straight out of the gate, given that average graduate salaries are anywhere from £18,000-£27,000, over the long term we’re looking at a minimal change in the amounts being docked from your pay (roughly £1/month). While I take a highly unpopular position on this matter, I’ve always seen the way tertiary education being structured in this country as being one of your typical quid pro quo agreement – by the time any of this truly affects us, we’re likely reaping the benefits of having a degree-level education.

While apprehensive, without any changes to grants or financial assistance from institutions on the horizon for now, I choose to welcome the changes to funding in the upcoming years, and the levelling of the playing field that I sincerely hope it provides.

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