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I got a student grant for university - and I don't think that scrapping them will make the system any less fair

University remains just as unaffordable as it did before the cut – but if you are successful after you graduate, you have to pay back what you borrowed in its entirety, instead of receiving a free hand-out

Thursday 21 January 2016 13:33 GMT
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A Level students picking up their results
A Level students picking up their results (Getty Images)

Maintenance grants have been scrapped and there has been predictable uproar from students throughout the country. Labour has claimed half a million students are going to be affected and the NUS has strongly condemned the plans - but I think everyone is missing one really important point: students aren’t receiving any less funding. Students from low income families will get exactly the same amount to go to university; the only difference is that now they will have to pay it back.

Students who lose their maintenance grants won’t actually have any less money at the point of going to university. Those who were entitled to a grant will receive exactly the same figure in their bank account every term through a repayable loan. The argument that a grant is needed to motivate students because they can’t afford to go to university simply doesn’t hold.

University remains just as unaffordable as it did before the cut – but if you are successful after you graduate, you have to pay back what you borrowed in its entirety, instead of receiving a free hand-out. That seems fair enough to me.

As a student who benefited from a grant - albeit a rather small one - I can assure you, it’s not necessary. I’m part of the cohort who paid £9000 for university fees and got a loan of roughly £5000 to pay for my living costs per year. I know some students will receive a lot more than the £750 a year I was given, but irrespective of that, it doesn’t make that much of a practical difference to a person’s life.

Yes my debt is slightly lower, but in terms of actually studying at university, I didn’t receive any extra money. My peers would have received the same amount as me, just through a loan instead.

The arguments of increased debt aren’t particularly valid. The system works in a way where you only start to pay back your loan once your salary reaches a certain level. So a student from a low income family should not have to pay back any less than a counterpart from a middle income family after graduation. The ability to pay back after university has no bearing on your parental income, but instead on the education you received and your employment status as an adult.

Before I get branded a closet Tory, I’m actually incredibly left-leaning and more than aware that this policy is regressive. If the government is strapped for cash and austerity measures need to be put in place, I don’t students from low income families should be the target. I campaigned against tuition fees rising, but in this case I do think it should be an even playing field for all.

If students from low income families are struggling to go to university, the responsibility to fund them should fall upon the institution itself. Universities have been lobbying to be treated like private education providers for years. Only a few months ago Russell Group universities put forward the case to be made exempt from FOI, plans which have received the go-ahead from the Government.

If we are willing to let our universities slowly move towards an American-style private system, they need to be willing to take on this burden and need to help students for whom university is less accessible.

Every single student who graduates now leaves university with a huge pile of debt; the tripling of fees was the nail in the coffin, not the scrapping of maintenance grants. Getting rid of these grants won’t deter students from going to university. No student should feel any less motivated go on to further education when their ability to do so at the point of entry is exactly the same.

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