Student maintenance grants are to be scrapped next year, revealed Chancellor George Osborne today in the first Conservative Budget since the general election. At the moment, university students in England and Wales who come from families who have a household income which is £25,000 or less are eligible for a maintenance grant of £3,387 a year.
However, starting from September next year this will no longer be the case, with less advantaged students having to face the prospect of holding even more debt under their belts come graduation day. To add insult to injury, from the following year, students may also be facing an increase in the current £9,000 tuition fees as they rise in line with inflation.
Many low- and middle-income potential university students could very well be deterred from going to university by the revelations of today. Indeed, since maintenance grants were introduced there has been an unmistakable rise in the number of students coming to university from low-income backgrounds and entry rates are now at record levels, an achievement which is likely to be reversed under these new measures.
Once again it seems our government has decided that in order to solve problems it must penalise the poor, rather than review the system itself. This seems to be a worrying trend, following the previous governments decision to scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which supported younger people from low-income backgrounds to stay in education above the age of 16.
Ensuring equal access to education is surely the only way we can improve social mobility in this country and create a more equal and fair society. This country has an embarrassingly huge problem with inequality and a lack of social mobility. I am not suggesting this problem is the fault of a single party or a single government, rather that this dangerous issue has been decades in the making and has become entrenched within our society.
Indeed, the income gap between the poorest and the richest members of our society continues to grow. The link between private education, higher education and highly paid jobs is unquestionable; half of senior doctors and almost three-quarters of high court judges were privately educated, and don’t even get my started on the government. Given that only 6.5% of children in this country are educated at private schools, which all but guarantees these select few a place at a good university, it is no wonder I use the word “embarrassing”.
We need a radical, long-term approach to this problem. Deterring students from less advantaged backgrounds from going into higher education is clearly not the way to do this. Abolishing both private and grammar schools, and raising the educational standards of comprehensive schools so that there is some level of continuity and equality across the country would be a start. Creating equality of opportunity when it comes to education from the word go is vital, but it is important that this continues into higher education.