Cuts to grants are 'slamming the door' on poor students

Students hold placards, and banners at the protest in London
Image captionCampaigners say replacing the maintenance grant with a loan discourages students from low income families

Thousands of students marched through central London on Wednesday to protest over cuts to higher education support.

Organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the protest is supported by the National Union of Students among other groups.

Protestors are campaigning for a government U-turn on the planned abolition of maintenance grants, and what they call ‘living grants for all’.

Graduates told the BBC what it would have meant if they had lost their grant.

English Literature graduate Jasmine Andersson

“I came from a working class background in Hull, and was the first person in my family to go to university. My dad was made redundant in the first three months of my studies and my maintenance grant was increased.

“I worked 20 hours a week outside of my degree but the grant was my saving grace, as the cheapest accommodation at my university was £79 a week. If I was receiving the lower amount [of grant] I wouldn’t have got by without dipping into my overdraft by about £300 each month.”

She added that the idea of students from poorer backgrounds owing £51,600 each – comprising three years’ tuition at £9,000 and the proposed maximum maintenance loan of £8,200 each year – was “horrific”.

“The plans would be a massive disadvantage for anyone from a working class background, not just by affecting their perception of being able to access higher education. It’s expecting them to pay a price for a background they didn’t choose to be born into.”

Students hold placards, flags and flares at the protest in London
Image captionStudents held placards, flags and flares at Wednesday’s protest in London

History graduate Connor Rand

Connor received a maintenance grant during his undergraduate studies, and is now the undergraduate education officer at the University of East Anglia’s student union.

He said Chancellor George Osborne’s plans to take away the maintenance grant were “slamming the door” on low-income students’ chances of accessing higher education.

“I was the first person in my family to go to university and I feel the sheer amount of debt is having a major impact on students wanting to put themselves through higher education – to have that hanging over you is very significant.

“When the maintenance grants were introduced, access [to higher education] went up quite significantly, so it’s a huge disadvantage for those from low incomes.

“Since the budget came out, plenty of students said their experience of university would have been very different without the grant.

“Even now, the cost of living for students is a real problem and the student union here has set up a food bank. More students are looking at hardship funds from the university.”

Post-graduate student Chantal Sullivan-Thomsett

“As someone who went to university after being a young carer for a disabled single mother, there is simply no other way I would have been encouraged to study at university than with a maintenance grant,” she said.

“[The grant] allowed some reduction in what you pay back and made allowances for the fact my family was not in a position to pay, and ensured I thought university was an affordable path for me.

She added that it enabled her to purchase course books and join in with social aspects of university life.

“It also helped during my second year, when I knew I needed to save a lot of money for my upcoming year abroad, which I supplemented with part time work at Debenhams.

“But I feel bad for my younger brother, who is paying £9,000 tuition fees and could have had his maintenance grant taken away. His financial experience of higher education has been utterly different.”

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is responsible for universities, said it was “committed to ensuring everyone with the potential to benefit from higher education has the opportunity to do so, regardless of their background”.

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