UK Secretary of State George Osborne announced in his budget presentation the scrapping of maintenance grants for lower-income university students, generating criticism from opponents including the Green Party.
The UK government will save £2 billion annually by replacing the grants with maintenance loans. Already the Green Party has collected over 41,500 signatures for its online #KEEPTHEGRANTS campaign.
The government received criticism for its plan that puts students from poorer backgrounds in a difficult situation that could increas their accumulated student debt to £53,000 after their studies’ completion.
Dave Cocozza, the Green Party’s spokesperson for Higher Education, said the plan will hinder higher education diversity and discourage poor students from pursuing an undergraduate degree. He also said that the plan will discourage adult learners from getting back in education.
“As someone who relied on the grant to get through university, I am incredibly disheartened at these plans and I intend to campaign furiously against them alongside other leading student campaigners and voices in parliament,” Cocozza said.
He added: “Converting them into loans and pushing students even further into debt is not the solution – we need a diverse higher education system, providing a diverse educated workforce, to grow a diverse economy.”
In a similar tone, Clifford Fleming, Young Greens Co-Chair and co-founder of the Green Students campaign, commented that “this is a callous and deeply reprehensible move”.
Osborne argues that this is an essential action that the government has to make to prevent more serious consequences:
“If we don’t tackle this problem, then universities will become under-funded and our students won’t get places – and I’m not prepared to let that happen.”
The anger and disappointment among UK youth was exacerbated as the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority confirmed an announcement that MPs will receive a 10% pay raise to £74,000 just days after news of changes to student financial aid.
In a recent Huffington Post article, Cocozza wrote about his own reliance on a maintenance grant to get him through higher education, saying:
“Please don’t government to force even more debt onto students; education should be available to all that have the aspirations to succeed, not just for those that can afford it.”
The Guardian’s John Harris interviewed several older citizens to gauge their reactions to the reforms. Dee Snape 68, said:
“I do feel sympathy for younger people now, and I know it’s a struggle. But they want more than we did. When we started our married life, there was no help. No maternity pay, even.”
A retired 91-year-old hairdresser, Ursula Smith said:
“We’ve all been through that, my dear. I’ve lived in rooms in attics, and I worked till I was 70. We worked all our lives. Life is what you make it: you’ve got to go out and get it.” She continued:
“People having eight or 10 kids on benefits – that does annoy me. If you can’t afford the kids, don’t have them.”