If student maintenance grants are coming back, who will pay for them?

May 1, 2018 by

David Morris –

The government has hinted it will reintroduce maintenance grants, but that there will be no extra money to pay for it

Back when student maintenance grants were abolished in 2015, universities seemed relatively relaxed. Ignoring the student protests over how they would cope with high costs of living, universities were quietly satisfied that at least the changes came in tandem with an inflationary rise in tuition fees, linked to their performance in the teaching excellence framework. How times have changed.

Three years on, and the inflationary increase for tuition fees is gone. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has now hinted strongly in the review of post-18 education and funding that maintenance grants will return, to remedy the high levels of debt among graduates from the lowest-income households.

May was in the cabinet that abolished maintenance grants. But it seems she’s changed her mind now that reintroducing them makes sense politically. Students in further and higher education – particularly those without the good fortune to be supported by parents or relatives – fit the definition of the “just about managing” (or Jam). And help with living costs appeals not only to students but also to the many parents who find themselves covering the gap between the standard maintenance loan and the cost of rent. Indeed, research by MoneySavingExpert suggests the government expects parents to contribute up to £5,552 annually.

Reintroducing grants to help students with the cost of living would also provide relief for the government by drawing political attention away from the thorny matter of tuition fees. Evidence from the National Educational Opportunities Network [pdf] suggests that fears about the cost of living are preventing some university applicants from selecting their ideal choice of university or course. Expensive rent is probably far more of a barrier to widening access than expensive fees, since students don’t repay these until after graduation.

Furthermore, grants make the system fairer. A new report from the National Union of Students argues that the barriers caused by experiencing poverty during education create additional costs that many middle-class students don’t have to face. As well as the additional debt taken on for maintenance, students from poorer backgrounds who go on to higher earnings have to pay the additional interest accrued. This “poverty premium” can also be found in tuition fees for access courses, additional time navigating the complexities of hardship funds or the benefits system, longer travel times to study, private renter guarantor schemes, and interest accrued on commercial debts such as payday lending.

Source: If student maintenance grants are coming back, who will pay for them? | David Morris | Higher Education Network | The Guardian

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