Two articles were featured in the Socialist magazine ‘Megaphone’ recently. The first of which discusses the removal of maintenance grants and can be read below.
Maintenance Grants gone in latest attack on poorest students.
The removal of Maintenance Grants is now in effect. George Osborne declared that the grants were ‘unaffordable’ and said that there was ‘[a] basic unfairness in asking taxpayers to fund grants for people who are likely to earn a lot more than them’.
The cost of the Maintenance Grant was last calculated to be £1.57 billion a year, undermining Osborne’s comment that they were ‘unaffordable’. To put this in context, Trident, which parliament recently voted to renew, is thought to cost at least£31 billion with an extra £10 billion put aside to cover extra costs. That’s not to mention further cuts to corporation taxes for big businesses.
At less than £2 billion, it seems baffling to assess such an essential as ‘unaffordable’. Furthermore, the idea that current students are likely to be earning ‘large salaries’ when they graduate seems to have no factual grounding at all, especially when we consider the level of debt students are now in.
Salaries in the graduate job market are stagnating and it seems unlikely that present or future graduates are going to be making more than their predecessors. Ultimately, the reasoning behind the scrapping of Maintenance Grants is false. This move only succeeds in increasing the gap between those who can afford an education and those who cannot.
But statistics aside, what does the abolition of the Maintenance Grant actually mean for a student attending university? I am one of the students on the maximum £3,387 a year. For me, this covers my rent for the year with a whole £7 left over. This is a house that I share with three other people in a student-dominated area of Birmingham, and is one of the cheapest options available.
This means that all of my utilities, living costs, supplies for the year (text books are surprisingly expensive), travel, social occasions and everything else I need for the next academic year, either comes out of a private loan (the average private debts of students is now £2,600) or from a part-time job.
With the elimination of the Maintenance Grant, there has been concern that students from lower-income families will be put off from attending universities. I will graduate with approximately £40,000 worth of debt from my standard three-year-course. £40,000 is a large enough debt to scare anyone of any age, let alone a seventeen-year-old with minimum financial experience. Now, a student following the exact same route I have, will be facing nearly £10,000 more debt than me. It is easy to see how £50,000 worth of debt could scare away a teenager from wanting to stay in education.
Many students attempt to reduce the amount of debt they accumulate by getting a part-time job while studying. The problem with this option is that finding a job is increasingly difficult. Often students are found to be working minimum wage jobs such as delivering flyers, promoting nightclubs, and working unsociable hours in bars and fast-food restaurants (this sometimes comes with the added bonus of permanent grease-burn scars). These jobs are often unsafe and involve being out late at night, which is understandably difficult for some. The third option then, is to not go to university, and alternatively pursue an option such as an apprenticeship (paying £3.30 an hour) or go into full-time employment, often in low paid or insecure work. It’s a bleak outlook.
Unsurprisingly, this has not been the only recent attack on what some institutions appear to see as “less desirable” students. At the end of last year, the Government announced that they would be cutting Disabled Students Allowance, instead shifting the responsibility of funding to individual universities themselves. DSA essentially gives funding to students with mental and/or physical difficulties who experience unique barriers in their education. The funding goes towards things like specialist software, note-takers, and mental health mentors. A student from Birmingham who receives DSA wrote this about what its removal means to him earlier this year, saying that:
“Without DSA, I would not have been able to go to university. I would not be studying for an MSci Mathematics degree. […] Above all else, I would not have met the many good friends I have here, who have made my years at university so far probably the best of my life.”
The changes to DSA affecting mentally ill teenagers (a large portion of which are LGBTQ+) and teenagers with physical impairments, black and ethnic minority students, and student carers or young parents – will see many of these groups increasingly left behind or left out. The class divide is set to become stronger than ever.
The scrapping of Maintenance Grants is an abhorrent move by the government, and yet it is only one move in a wider picture of educational upheaval. The continuing fight for a system of free education is more important than it has ever been, and it will only be through ambitious coordinated action; through protests, strikes, tenancy unions and direct action that we will be able to reverse vicious cuts like these and win against this government.
By Charlie Jones.