We need our Maintenance Grants
Don’t we have enough debt?
At this time of year, a fresh batch of potential students are beginning to receive acceptance letters into universities that open the gates to their dreams, passions and career prospects. At this time last year, I remember breaking the news to my parents that I would be moving to Cornwall to study journalism. I’ll be the first to hold my hands up and say that my family are from a poorer background – I live with my single mother on a pretty low income. Every year, I receive the maximum maintenance grant of £3,387 – and this is without a doubt crucial to my survival at university. However, in the 2015 budget review, Chancellor George Osborne said that these grants had become “unaffordable”, and decided to completely cut them for students joining university in September 2016.
I tried to put myself in the shoes of the students receiving their acceptance letters this year. I thought to myself, if I had decided to apply a year later, would I even be at university? The answer troubled me. Students beginning university in 2016 will never be eligible for a ‘means-tested’ grant from the government to afford a roof over their heads or essential living items. Instead, it will be replaced with a larger loan to cover the costs of living at university. In some ways, I suppose you could consider this a good thing. Despite being essential for me, the ‘full’ maintenance grant is still a struggle to survive on after rent.
Anyone who is in the same situation knows that it takes serious cut-backs to the luxury/quantity of food, activities and societies all due to the fact you have to pay for them. Now on the more worrying hand, like the debt I face after finishing university isn’t crushing enough, the grants are being replaced with loans, meaning that the less affluent students coming to university this year would be facing around £52,000 to repay after their studies, making them more in debt than me by over £13,000. It is said that students shouldn’t worry about it because they’ll probably never pay it back anyway – in some cases this is true, but it still feels extremely unfair and immoral that all free support is being stripped away.
According to the BBC, half a million students every year receive a maintenance grant, that’s half a million people who aren’t privileged finally getting the opportunity to make a decent living for themselves. It feels like we’re taking a step back in time and higher education is becoming accessible to the rich only. The government spend on average £1.57 billion on maintenance grant per year, compare this to the amount we spend on defence, pensions and healthcare, it really isn’t much at all. It would be like taking a penny from a wallet full of notes. Maintenance grants may be “unaffordable” for the government, but scrapping them comes at a price. The fact that such an important matter wasn’t even discussed in the House of Commons just means that there was no given opportunity to speak up and oppose the cuts… how undemocratic. It is the taxpayer’s money after all, and I wonder if perhaps super-rich citizens like David Cameron’s father decided to pay their taxes we would be in this predicament in the first place.
Not only do I worry about the futures of many young people who find themselves unable to afford higher education – I worry about the future of higher education institutions as we know it. The beauty of university is that living and studying away from home means that peers are forced to socialise with groups that they perhaps might not have had the chance to otherwise. It is a hub of differing backgrounds and beliefs, cultures and interests. Fuck the cliché gap year, you can ‘find yourself’ right here at university.
I certainly believe I have become a better, more knowledgeable and understanding version of myself since starting university in September 2015, and this wasn’t a product of going to lectures. Your peers are the people who really support, motivate, inspire and challenge you throughout your years of study. It’s a real shame that the moment of delight my family should’ve had knowing that I would be going to uni was dampened by the prospect of affording it – and I can only imagine how much worse it’ll be for people like me starting university this year.