UK Maintenance Grants Out, Loans In; NUS Calls ‘Disgraceful’

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

The government of the United Kingdom has come under fire for replacing university maintenance grants with loans for the nation’s poorest students. Many critics believe that this will have an impact on upward mobility and discourage those from lower socioeconomic classes from going to university and getting good jobs.

Earlier this year, the government was heavily criticized for pushing the change through a small committee with a debate that lasted just 90 minutes. Many believed that this was “undemocratic” and did not reflect the wishes of the people.

This change has been planned for more than a year, and despite receiving backlash, still came to fruition. In the 2015 Budget, the chancellor at the time, George Osborne, announced that the government would be abolishing grants and replacing them with maintenance loans. According to the BBC, he stated that it was unfair that taxpayers fund these grants when students might end up making more than them.

Under the previous plan, students from families with an income of £25,000 or less could receive a living costs grant of £3,387 per year. This amount then decreased as the family’s income increased until hitting the maximum income of £42,620, at which point the grants would cease.

Now, students who live away from home in London will get up to £10,702 in loans per year, while those who live outside of London (where the living costs are lower) will be eligible to receive £8,200.

Once the student is making more than £21,000 per year, the loans will all have to be repaid. This goes back on a promise made in 2012, meaning that around two million graduates will be forced to pay back more on their loans than they had planned.

This decision passed despite 84 percent of respondents to a survey opposing the decision, reports Aftab Ali of the Independent. More than 130,000 people signed a petition to overturn the unpopular change.

The Department for Education declined to comment.

Sorana Vieru, the vice president of the National Union of Students, called the decision “disgraceful” and said that it “basically punishes poorer students simply for being poor.” Vieru also noted that it may affect the application rates of poorer students and those from other underprivileged groups.

“So they have to take a bigger loan than those students from privileged backgrounds.

“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 mature students are way more debt-averse than younger students and BME [black and minority ethnic] students perceive student debt on a par with commercial debt.”

According to the Guardian, a new report by the Intergenerational Foundation has shown that student debt payments negate the benefits of higher earnings for university graduates, meaning that university attendance rates may decrease in the long term.