I am very upset by this change announced in the recent Budget: university maintenance grants for lower income students in England and Wales are to be scrapped from September 2016. Currently, students from families with annual incomes of £25,000 or less get the full grant of £3,387 a year. More than half a million students in England receive a maintenance grant from the taxpayer. This is nothing to do with tuition fees: it is about the resources that students need to keep themselves, incurred largely when they are living away from home in halls of residence or student digs at the university of their choice. Like the tuition fee loan, the new maintenance loans will have to be repaid once the graduate is earning £21K pa. If the student who starts his or her course in 2016 is tempted to borrow the new maximum maintenance loan of £8K a year, they could leave university with debts not only of £27K, as now, but £51K!
What is so especially damaging about this? It is that more students are likely to decide to stay at home and study at their local university, in order to save on living costs. They will not choose a university in another region of the country, or even the most suitable one for them and their discipline, but the nearest. This tendency is a real blow to social mobility. Nothing is more conducive to getting young people from all areas of the UK to meet each other, and foster ambition, develop careers, make friends and break down barriers, than leaving home at the impressionable age of 18 or so, and going to live with others who have chosen the same academic path. If you stay at home to save money, your choice is limited, especially out of London, and you will continue to mix only with your childhood friends and those in your locality. Born in Town A, study at the University of A, pair up with a fellow student at A, and stay there for evermore, most likely. Whereas if the maintenance support were an outright grant, the student whose home town was A could decide to move to London or further north without fearing extra debt. The move away to university is much more likely to be a lifechanging event, in a good way.
I grew up in a shabby war-damaged part of London (now a madly fashionable suburb!) and my £300 maintenance grant from the LCC enabled me to live comfortably away from home – the LCC even paid for me to travel home and back to university and threw in something extra for support in the vacations. I wish today’s students could benefit from the same generosity. Instead, immobility is their lot.