The Government looks set to officially scrap maintenance grants today - without a vote and debate in the House of Commons - and will be spoken about by just 17 MPs through a legislation committee, a move some politicians have labelled “shocking,” “undemocratic,” and “frightening.”
The issue was raised at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday by Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central. However, the National Union of Students (NUS), which has been calling for a fair debate on the topic to take place, described how David Cameron “dodged” Mr Blomfield’s questions “on such a crucial issue.”
In the full exchange, Mr Blomfield to Mr Cameron: “When the Government pushed through their changes to undergraduate funding four years ago, they said that providing maintenance grants for the poorest students was key to their participation in higher education.
.@lucyallan Govt shouldn't hide from a real debate. Please vote today to 'not consider' scrapping maintenance grants for poorest students— Megan Dunn (@megandunn116) January 14, 2016
In committee room 9 for the toothless Third Delegated Legislation Committee where we're discussing scrapping student grants. Disgrace.— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) January 14, 2016
This is the membership of the committee debating student grants. Tories are starred, SNP added only yesterday. pic.twitter.com/FIUiLNcixm— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) January 14, 2016
“No mention was made in the Conservative manifesto of ending those grants. Is it therefore not completely unacceptable to make that fundamental change tomorrow by the back door, in Committee, without a vote of this House?”
Mr Cameron, however, insisted the issue had been “fully debated and discussed” in the house, and added: “It’s absolutely right because what our changes have shown - despite all the warnings from the party opposite - that more people are taking part in higher education and more people from low income backgrounds are taking part in higher education - and I’m confident that will continue to be the case.”
Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, described how he worked in higher education before becoming an MP and saw, at first-hand, how being at university “allows people to grow and develop.” He added: “This is a very frightening prospect for young people and their parents. This is a typical Tory reaction, they don’t understand what it is like to struggle.
Student news in pictures
Student news in pictures
1/26 NUS group criticised for passing motion to abolish ‘sexist and racist’ prisons
Submitted by the University of Bradford Union of Students, the motion entitled ‘Prisons are Obsolete! Abolish Them Now!’ was passed at the NUS Black Students' Conference in Bradford and resolved to “call for the abolition of the prison-industrial complex.”
2/26 Scottish universities worst in the UK for admitting poorer students, despite having no tuition fees
Despite some improvements, Sutton Trust report shows young disadvantaged Scottish people are four times less likely to go to university than their wealthier counterparts. In England the same figure is 2.4, while in Wales and Northern Ireland, poorer students are three times more likely to do so.
3/26 Major universities announce plans to address fossil fuel divestment calls from students
Universities of Newcastle and Southampton say they will commit to changing their investment policies, while Australia’s La Trobe University has become the country’s first to confirm it will divest within five years.
4/26 Oklahoma high school student walks for the first time on graduation day
Micah McDade, from Okmulgee High School, has taken social media by storm after defying all the odds to shock his family, peers, and school staff to rise from his wheelchair and walk - for the first time - to collect his diploma. The teenager had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy from birth and, having gone through countless hours of physical therapy, was finding walking to be a challenge.
5/26 Angelina Jolie appointment as university professor divides opinion
The news that Angelina Jolie Pitt - Oscar-winning actress and political campaigner - will be joining the academic team at the UK’s prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) has been encouraging debate and splitting opinion online and among the student body. One student told the Independent: “Her appointment only serves to undermine the university, its students and professors and, ultimately, our meritocratic society.”
6/26 Overwhelming majority of UK students set to vote Remain in EU referendum
Graduate career app Debut has surveyed 12,000 students from its user base in May to find a staggering 81% will be voting for the UK to stay in the EU, while just 10% will be voting Leave, suggesting - for the first time - the student contingent could swing the campaign in the opposite direction. Career concerns have emerged as being the main motivating factor for staying (77%).
7/26 George Osborne letter from 2003 reveals how he thought tuition fees were ‘a tax on learning’ and ‘very unfair’
The revelation has come to light after recent Manchester music graduate, Rosy Williams, posted a letter onto Facebook that she received from the politician 13 years ago in which he sought to address concerns surrounding a fee increase to £3,000. He wrote: “This is a tax on learning and is very unfair. Given grants have been abolished too, students face leaving college with debts of around £18,000. There is lots of evidence that it is fear of going into debt that most puts people from poorer background off going to university.”
8/26 Sheffield Students’ Union votes to sabotage National Student Survey
Move comes following the publication of the Government’s White Paper which announced that a series of new measures would be introduced to improve teaching in universities which could result in higher tuition fees. SSU says it wants to find alternative ways for students to give feedback on their courses, without using the metrics, which could leave younger generations in “a lifetime of even more debt.”
Lee Haywood/flickr/Creative Commons
9/26 Closure of Cambridge University student paper, The Cambridge Student, draws heavy criticism
Student Publication Association chair, Dan Seamarks, says: "This decision is appalling. The SPA stands with the #SaveTCS campaign. We are sorry their handwork, dedication, and passion for student media has been ignored." TCS staff had announced last month that CUSU sent an unexpected email informing the team its board of trustees had proposed a radical “reduction in resource allocation” for the paper in its 2016/17 budget which led to a hard-fought campaign to prevent the paper from moving online only.
The Cambridge Student/Issuu
10/26 Student’s sexual assault experience gathers attention on Twitter after university ‘failed to act’
The anonymous student - who says she is a first-year at Spelman College, part of the Atlanta University Centre (AUC) in the US - began the account under the handle @RapedAtSpelman, claiming the university failed to act when she raised the issue. College president, Mary Schmidt Campbell, pictured, reached out to the student on the social media site, urging her to reveal her identity to the president so she could offer her “full support and assistance.”
11/26 Thai medical school applicants caught cheating using super high-tech glasses and smartwatches
Echoing something out of a James Bond movie, three students at Rangsit University were caught wearing glasses with embedded cameras. The cameras were designed to take pictures of exam questions which were then allegedly sent to a third party. The students were also wearing smartwatches to which third parties sent the answers back to for the students to then cheat their way onto medical courses. The three have appeared at a police inquiry and have now been blacklisted in the country.
12/26 Susu the cat voted honorary president of Southampton University Students’ Union
Debating a motion prior to the decision, the union heard how the cat had lived in one of its buildings for more than a decade, and was already fulfilling an important duty by being detached from union politics. Susu will be declared honorary president in late May 2016.
13/26 Newcastle University students offered £3 drug-testing kit
The handy kits - which are reportedly a world-first - have been designed to help students make informed choices when it comes to taking drugs, and are part of a new initiative called Test Your Drugs, Not Yourself.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy Newcastle
14/26 Oxford University ‘rejects’ call for Ntokozo Qwabe to have Rhodes Scholarship revoked
The petition had gathered over 42,000 signatures in just five days after the law student was criticised for boasting in a Facebook post that he, and his friends, had reduced a waitress to tears after refusing to tip her until white residents in South Africa “return the land” to black residents. An Oxford spokesman said: “Oxford is a place where non-violent speech, however objectionable, can be expressed and challenged.”
15/26 Chief Rabbi urges university vice-chancellors to address growing anti-Semitism problem
Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has told The Sunday Times university heads should be “ashamed” that “Zionist-bashing” is happening on their campuses. He said to the site: “To vice-chancellors I would say: see what is happening under your noses, what is happening to the reputation of your universities.”
Chris Radburn/PA Wire
16/26 ‘Largest student rent strike in British history’ gathers momentum in London
Strikers at the University of Roehampton and the Courtauld Institute of Art have joined those from Goldsmiths and University College London (UCL) to bring the total number of protesters to more than 1,000 over the cost of accommodation prices they say are “soaring.”
Goldsmiths, Cut the Rent/Facebook
17/26 UCL accused of cutting bursaries for low income students amid growing rent strike
A join investigation by UCL, Cut the Rent and UCL Union magazine, The Cheese Grater, has revealed that, for the 2016/17 academic year, the university has cut bursary amounts by between £500 and £1,000. The developments have come as over 600 UCL students are on strike and demanding lower rent in student accommodation.
UCL, Cut the Rent/Facebook
18/26 Spanish students to undertake compulsory course on exorcisms
The series of compulsory seminars are being taught at the University College of Barberán and Collán, which is part of the Complutense University of Madrid - one of the oldest institutions in the world - and is also said to be funded by Spain’s Ministry of Defence. According to local media, the college’s entire student body - all of whom are members of military families - will have to attend the theological conference centred on “the fields related to the devil, exorcisms, being possessed, and hell.”
19/26 Students’ concern over finances is affecting their mental health
A poll of just over 2,050 students from Future Finance has shown more than a third are worrying about their finances to such an extent that it is affecting their mental health. Other key findings have shown that, overall, 63% of students from across the UK are worrying about their finances all the time or very often, females are more likely to be affected, and 38% are considering work that could affect their wellbeing, including work in the sex industry.
Monkey Business Images/REX Shutterstock
20/26 Universities of Oxford and Cambridge ‘failing poor students’, says think tank report
According to Freedom of Information figures obtained by OxPolicy, despite ‘flagging’ students whose applications warrant special attention, Cambridge and Oxford universities are more likely to accept an ‘unflagged’ applicant.
21/26 Cambridge University faces growing pressure to divest from fossil fuel companies
The University of Cambridge has become the latest higher education institution to face growing pressure to withdraw its investments from fossil fuel companies following the launch of a student-led campaign. More than 100 staff, students, alumni, and others affiliated with the institution have signed an open letter saying, when it comes to the climate, Cambridge is making “the wrong kind of impact.”
Cambridge Zero Carbon Society via Facebook
22/26 University applicants are regretting the A-level subjects they took, new research shows
New research from Which? University has shown almost 30 per cent of university applicants wished they had chosen different A-level subjects, while just over 40 per cent wished they had thought more about what subjects might help them get into university.
23/26 Graduate debt in England higher than any other English-speaking country
University students in England are graduating with higher levels of debt than those in any other English-speaking country, a new report has revealed. According to the Sutton Trust, English students who graduated last year under the new £9,000 fees regime owed an average of £44,500 - higher than their American counterparts, and more than those in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
24/26 Student’s graduation day pictures capture the harsh reality of debt after university
Maigan Kennedy, 27, from North Carolina in the US has been gathering attention online for her unique - yet somewhat accurate - vision of life after university by capturing the harsh reality of debt that students are leaving the American education system with. Taking to photo sharing site, Imgur, Ms Kennedy’s pictures show her leaving university with a debt trophy, lying on the ground ‘drowning’ in overdue payment notices, as well as looking sad while holding a handwritten sign which reads: “Will run lines 4 food.”
25/26 London and Cardiff Metropolitan named ‘worst’ universities for resolving student complaints
London Metropolitan University has been named the worst in England and Wales when it comes to resolving student complaints. Higher education guide, the Complete University Guide, has analysed the number of Completion of Procedure Letters issued when internal complaints processes at universities come to an end.
26/26 Ucas head urges students to avoid ‘hackneyed’ phrases in personal statements
The head of Ucas has urged students applying for university to keep their personal statements 'personal' as the admission service reveals the most clichéd phrases used in applications. From the more than 700,000 people who applied for the 2015 cycle, almost 1,800 used the phrase: “From a young age, I have (always) been,” followed by: “For as long as I can remember, I have…” which was written 1,450 times.
“We have worked to target support to the poorest students, and removing that vital help will hurt those who need it most. Plans to cut maintenance grants are wrong and we will fight these plans tooth and nail.
“Social mobility is a real priority and these changes threaten to further entrench inequality. It is something I oppose.”
Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North, said he would be fighting to save grants for the poorest university students, which the Government plans to scrap “using a small committee that nobody has ever heard of.” He added: “This is a shockingly underhand and undemocratic way for the Government to behave - which I’m now getting used to.”
In the 2015 Budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced the Government’s intention to abolish grants and replace them, instead, with increased maintenance loans, a change which looks set to have an impact on student perceptions of the value of higher education.
Currently, university students from families with a household income of £25,000 or less are entitled to a grant to cover living costs of £3,387 per year. This grant then decreases as the family’s income increases and come to an end when a household earns more than £42,620.
However, from September 2016 - when the new system will come into place - those students who live away from home outside of London will receive a higher loan amount of up to £8,200, while those away from home in the capital will get up to £10,702. This will then all have to be repaid under the same terms as existing loans once a graduate earns more than £21,000 per year.