In July 2015, Chancellor George Osborne made the decision to cut maintenance grants for lower income students. This vital part of financing studies for many students has been dismissed as a “basic unfairness” by Osborne, who deemed it unfair for taxpayers to fund the education of people who are likely to earn a lot more than them in the future. Although the Conservative party advertises this as a necessary measure in their continuous policies of austerity, the cutting of maintenance grants has been criticized as an elitist attack on poorer students and is likely to discourage many from partaking in further education.
The current policy means that a student who comes from a family where the annual household income does not surpass £25,000 would get the full grant of £3,387. The BBC has stated that more than 500,000 students receive a maintenance grant, which totals to £1.75 billion a year. Osborne stated that this cost would likely double in the next decade due to there being no cap on student numbers. He justified his decision declaring: “If we don’t tackle this problem, the universities will become under-funded and our students won’t get places, and I’m not prepared to let that happen.”
(Photo Credit: The Independent)
The scrapping of maintenance grants does not support Osborne’s apparent concern for the welfare of students. Increasing the debt for the poorest students to roughly £51,600 for a three-year course almost imposes a new kind of cap on student numbers. Although students are not required to pay back their loans until they are earning at least £21,000 a year, the phenomenal amount of debt that will be inferred from studying a degree is likely to discourage poorer students from applying. The idea of being a graduate with a surplus of £51,000 worth of debt is a very demotivating thought.
Osborne’s policy of austerity in education has created a new kind of cap on education. There is now the potential for a subtle elitism to become manifested within Britain’s universities. The financial struggle that is now inextricably linked with lower income students attending university is a dangerous discouragement to many people with the potential to achieve highly. Although this policy is intended to maintain the high standards of the UK’s education system, it has the potential to reduce the quality of students in attendance, as it may become the most rich who attend, not the most intelligent.
The policy is will be implemented in September 2016, meaning that current first year students will be directly affected by the change. With Osborne stating that tuition fees could rise with inflation in 2017-18, university is becoming a far more costly experience for the individual. Despite the Conservative’s argument that their measures will both benefit the taxpayer and the student, it is hard to ignore the inevitable effect that this will have on educational aspirations of poorer students.