Tory’s Budget Announcement Sparks Fears For Future Students!
On 9th July Chancellor George Osborne announced his plans for the Conservative Budget 2015. The budget has brought with it new allowances for universities, meaning they will be able to raise their tuition fees in line with inflation from 2017. At present a tuition fee cap of £9,000 is implemented.
Osborne has announced that the government plan to use a ‘teaching excellence framework’, stating that they will relate the rise of student fees with inflation to institutions that can prove they offer a high standard of teaching.
The government will also be making changes to how they distribute maintenance allowance. Currently students from families with annual incomes of £25,000 or less are entitled to receive the full maintenance grant of £3,387 per year. Around 500,000 students from lower income families rely on this to support themselves whilst studying. New Tory plans will see these grants changed to maintenance loans for students applying to start in 2016 onwards.
These loans will be paid back only once the student has graduated and is earning over £21,000 a year. The amount available to borrow will rise to £8,200, a sum; Osborne says is higher than any other made available for students to borrow previously.
These announcements made in the budget have created ripples throughout the UK, with individuals and institutions voicing both their support and their opposition to the government’s plans. Megan Dunn, President of the National Union of Students (NUS), condemned the government’s plans for change. She spoke recently about how the poor health and low income of students has become a regular punch line and stressed that it is not a joke, but a national crisis.
Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, was not so critical of the reforms. His counter argument to the critics lay in the belly of the monster the government unleashed in 2012. Ebdon claims that the same fears of pricing lower income students out of education were had when the government raised tuition fees to £9,000. Statistics now show that these fears were unsupported as since 2012 we have seen record numbers of students from low income backgrounds going to universities across the UK.
I spoke to Derby student Emma Ward about her take on the budget announcement. Emma is one such student who currently qualifies for a maintenance grant from the government. She says she would be affected by these changes were she one of those applying to study in 2016. When asked what she thought of these changes and how they will affect prospective students of the future, she said:
Can we accept living in a society that refuses education to those willing to learn purely because money is an issue? This is what we’re drawing ever closer to.
Each new budget cut and each new loan piled on the debt donkey’s back is soon going to be too high. University students are an investment both in our country’s job force and in our future.
I got in touch with the Students’ Union President, Daisy Giuliano, and Vice President Welfare and Student Rights, Sórcha Haverty. Both Student Officers have been involved with the NUS’ plans to oppose these reforms. When asked for a statement on her thoughts, Daisy said:
For me the change from grants to loans just joins a long list of ways in which the government choose to show how they feel about young people in this country. We aren’t listened to, we aren’t viewed with the same focus as others and we aren’t seen as something deemed worthy of investment.
The Students’ Union will be lobbying Derby’s local MPs to represent our views when these changes get debated. We will be asking our national representatives to stand up against changes that will impact on those students who are being priced out of education.
Daisy is not alone in her opposition to the changes. All the vehemence to the opposition that she expressed was echoed in her Vice President’s words. Sórcha added:
With the price of university increasing, with no cap on tuition fees and an ever increasing price of renting nationally – how can it be argued that students are getting a fair deal?
Alongside this increasing price of university comes added unnecessary stress and worry for students. With the disabled students allowance being cut it leaves other questions open such as what is going to happen to the mental health support provision at universities? Ultimately, the scrapping of the maintenance grants will disproportionately affect those from lower income backgrounds, which is not on.
It would seem that the concerns expressed by both Daisy and Sórcha are reflected on a wider societal scale. After the budget announcement a YouGov survey of public opinion found that, of the policies proposed, the plan to switch grants to maintenance loans was the least popular.
It is easy to see how the cycle of disregard evolves. Come each general election the young are the age demographic most absent from the ballot box. Many feel our government are throwing us in front of the economic steam train in order to safeguard their vote source who as it happens, come from the other end of the age spectrum. Our fledgling generation are being burned by a fire they did not ignite and in the words of our Vice President Welfare and Student Rights ‘it’s not on’.
However, not all of the Students’ Union Officers are as concerned with the changes that have been proposed. Chris Batten, our Students’ Union’s Vice President Academic Affairs, expressed through his blog that he did not feel these reforms would deter students from lower income backgrounds from applying for a place at university in the future. He wrote that the system of repayment will be fairer now than it was for students in previous years.
Our Officers are joining many other Unions in the NUS’ national campaign #CutTheCosts. They haven’t taken these reforms lying down and on behalf of us all; they will be taking these grievances to the Students’ Union and MP’s both locally and nationally. The NUS will also be organising demonstrations and sit-ins from 4th November.
The beginning of a five year stint in power has kicked off. Vast changes are being made now, as they were when we elected the coalition back in 2010 to our education institution. After the announcement of the Conservative Budget 2015 it appears to many that for an older, wealthier population a hand of blue hue is being held out as a gesture of good faith. Instead, those that have not long flown their low income nest and are looking to better themselves through education are left to swing from the trees with a blue noose around their necks.