In the much anticipated autumn statement, George Osbourne announced another inspired method to make sure that he passes on his Government’s problems to the Government of 2035. I am talking about the scrapping of university bursaries. As a recipient of these bursaries, I for one was very glad I am buggering off. Enjoy your extra debt, folks, especially those who voted the Government in. Unfortunately, I do have a shred of human compassion and so I want to enlighten you all about this world of debt.
So what is the proposal? Currently people can claim a maximum of £9,703 if they live in London and £7,434 if they live outside. Of this, £3,387 is given as a bursary. From next year, the maximum you can be loaned is increasing to £10,702 within London and £8,200 outside which Osbourne and the Conservatives hope will deal with the problems of students being unable to fund the costs of living during university.
This raises a couple of questions. Firstly, is the current payment enough to live off? Yes, easily. Yes campus accommodation is extortionate, beer is not exactly cheap (York seems to have relocated to London as far as a price of a pint is concerned) and Society has increased the price of Jäger bombs. Even then I manage to live comfortably while paying for a ski trip, multiple trips to Mumbai Lounge (I presume my fee is in the post), and countless Freddos. What is the biggest drain on a student’s finances? Drinking. I am partial to a night out or two, but I understand that if I can’t afford to go out, I don’t go out. You are all people with half a brain cell so why not use it. Don’t run up a £1000 overdraft buying drinks for your mates. Don’t go to Evil Eye. Perhaps you could even lay off the drink. In absolute terms as long as you can survive and have the basic essentials, you are completely fine.
However, there are still people who struggle fund living expenses at University. 53% of students have resorted to taking a part time job to support living expenses, and some have to drop out due to cost. It can also be argued that students should be able to make the most of their time at university to develop themselves. Going skiing, eating out in different restaurants and travelling are all part of the student experience that make University so enriching. Does this, therefore, mean every student should be funded adequately to do this? I’ll leave you to make your mind up.
The second part to the policy is the more controversial one. The cutting of bursaries has been criticised heavily, but it has also been defended by both sides of the political spectrum. The increase in money students receive is a definite positive that should have been introduced with the increase in tuition fees. Meanwhile, the final student debt becomes ever higher. I have heard the defence that students, in most cases, won’t have to pay back more. This is true but will the average A level student have all the information they need about how student debt works? I know I didn’t. After all there are so many variables to take into account.
Another thing to remember is that students from a poorer background are less likely to have parents who understand the Higher Education system. They are likely to under-estimate the benefits while over-estimating the costs, and therefore they may try to convince their child not to attend university. With debt figures above £50,000, even middle class families will struggle to pay for education upfront.
Another consideration is that we live in a society where debt is perceived as being bad. But, in reality, student debt is harmless and can’t effect getting a mortgage for a house, for example. However with the Government practising austerity, this perception is unlikely to change anytime soon. Is there evidence to back this up? Well this very move has happened before under a Labour Government. In 1998 grants were scrapped only to brought back again in 2004. A study examining this period found that for every thousand pounds of grants that were cut, participation in higher education fell by 2.6% and this was backed up by further studies both here and in the US.
Therefore, I urge you to oppose the scrapping of grants because, if this goes ahead, how long will it be until Oxford, Cambridge and even York are able to set their fees at £15,000 or even higher? After all there seems to be no limit on how much student debt will be allowed to rise.
Bottom Line: We should oppose the scrapping of maintenance grants and bursaries because the added debt will lead to fewer people going to university