Conor McCormack discusses the government’s plan to cut student’s maintenance grants.
Edited by Isabel Aruna.
Whether you like me place value on social mobility or not, one thing I think that we can all agree on is the importance of democracy. Sadly the government in one of their latest moves, has elected to obstruct social mobility and make a mockery of the democratic process. In January 2016, the Conservatives axed the maintenance grant and replaced it with a higher form of loan. Prior to this students who came from families who earned £25,000 or less, were entitled to a maintenance grant of £3,387 to assist with the living costs at university. However, from September 2016 students from these families will be forced to pay back this grant, once they are earning more than £21,000. This move by the government has not gone unopposed, Labour MPs as well as key figures in the National Union of Students (NUS) spoke out against the policy. The two main issues surrounding the policy is the seemingly undemocratic way in which it was implemented and the potential effects that it could have on social mobility.
It is very easy to see the undemocratic nature of how this policy was implemented. Quite simply there was never a vote or a debate for the policy in the House of Commons. Instead the policy was put through by a legislative committee, one that the Labour Party claims was biased towards the Tories. Wes Streeting, the Labour MP was correct in stating that this is a “Shocking, underhand, and undemocratic way to behave.”
Furthermore, there are negative consequences that the scraping of grants will have on social mobility. It is a well-known fact that having a university degree greatly increases your chances of employability. Even before the grants were scrapped, children from wealthier backgrounds were 10 times more likely to go to university, than children from lower income families. Getting rid of the grant will certainly not allow this statistic to become kinder to students from less prosperous backgrounds. NUS research shows that more than half of parents, believe that the policy will discourage young people from poorer backgrounds from going to university.
Another statistic shows that two fifths of parents with a combined income of under £25,000, think that their children will be discouraged from going into higher education. Even young people from lower income families that do choose to go to university will be at a disadvantage. Megan Dunn from the NUS correctly states that, “Students are already facing rising student debt when they graduate, so pilling even bigger debt on the shoulders of the poorest students is extremely unfair”. Essentially, the axe of the grant both deters those students from lower income families from going to university and thus damages their employability; or they partake in university but leave it with a greater level of student debt than students from more wealthier backgrounds.
It would be reasonable to ask ourselves at this point what the motive for all this is. As with most issues one word springs to mind to explain the Tories motive. Austerity. The reality is that the government simply don’t need to encourage people from lower income families to go to university. In a transparent attempt to make their unemployment figures look better, they lifted the cap on university places meaning that there is now no limit to how many students universities can take on. This really was the ideal revelation for the austerity loving Conservatives, now they no longer need to give out free grants to students as well, as the number of people attending university is rising. However, the policy’s long term effects and the way it was implemented, is certainly not the ideal outcome for those of us who care about social mobility and the democratic process.