Politicians, students’ union (SU) officers, and Twitter users are not happy with the Conservatives today as news of the Government officially - and quietly - axing maintenance grants for more than half a million of the poorest students began to spread online.
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden, who is also Labour’s shadow minister for higher education, led the criticism after a “Third Delegated Legislation Committee” saw a small number of Tory MPs “sneak through” measures to remove the grants and replace them with loans without any debate or vote in the House of Commons.
Mr Marsden described the issue as being “too big a change to not be debated and voted on” and said: “I and my Labour colleagues are not going to give up on this issue and we will continue to raise it - by whatever means - in Parliament.
“Removing these grants will make higher education unaffordable and disadvantage many students, and could see participation levels fall. This is just another disastrous measure from a government whose policies are damaging the life chances and aspirations of many people.”
During Prime Minister’s Question on Wednesday, David Cameron was reminded by Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central, that such a fundamental change did, at no point, appear in the Conservative Party’s election manifesto.
The National Union of Students (NUS) accused Mr Cameron of “dodging” the issue, however, as he insisted it had been “fully debated and discussed” in the house. Mr Cameron added: “What our changes have shown - despite all the warnings from the party opposite - is that more people from low income backgrounds are taking part in higher education, and I’m confident that will continue to be the case.”
Labour MP for Ilford North, Wes Streeting, said it took just 90 minutes for 18 MPs to debate the abolition of student grants “in a committee that most people have never heard of.” He added: “Lord Stevenson has tabled a Lords motion. We won’t go down without a fight.”
Joining Mr Marsden in their disappointment at the decision made on Thursday, the team at Lancaster University SU described how they were “appalled to learn of the underhand and undemocratic way” in which the decision was handled. The group added: “It’s our belief Mr Osborne knows that, just like the ‘pasty tax’ and tax credit cuts, his new approach to grants doesn’t stand up to scrutiny - and he hopes that, by quietly forcing it through, he’ll avoid yet another embarrassment.”
The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) described how the battle in the #GrantsNotDebt campaign is not just a fight to save the maintenance grants of poorest students, but also “a fight against the Tories flagrant disdain of democracy.”
Recent research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found scrapping maintenance grants will result in the poorest 40 per cent of university students in England racking-up a graduate debt amount of up to £53,000 for a three-year course, compared to the £40,500 prior to the cut.
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