Maintenance grants for low-income students looking to earn a degree from a university in England are no longer available, with the government scrapping them in favor of loans.
Under the previous system, students from families that make roughly £25,000 or less receive a full grant each year, amounting to around £3,387. Grants decreased as family income increased, coming to a stop for households that made more than £42,620.
More than half a million students received maintenance grants from the government last year, totaling £1.57 billion for the year, reports Tom Mendelsohn for Ars Technica.
Now, students living outside of London will receive a student loan amount of up to £8,200, while those coming from within the capital will access up to £10,702. All loans will have to be repaid under the same terms as existing loans when a graduate begins earning more than £21,000 annually. The repayment threshold will stay at that point for the next five years, writes Danny Lord for MoneyExpert.
Announced last year by George Osborne within the 2015 Budget, the measures were introduced due to a “basic unfairness in asking taxpayers to fund grants for people who are likely to earn a lot more than them.”
Osborne said that changing the system would prevent underfunding at universities, adding that the new loans would be for larger amounts than the grants and that they would not need to be paid back until it was affordable to do so:
“From 2016/17 academic year, we will replace maintenance grants with loans for new students, loans that only have to be paid back once they earn over £21,000 a year. And to ensure universities are affordable to all students from all backgrounds we will increase the maintenance loan available to £8,200, the highest amount of support ever provided,” said Osborne.
Osborne continued by saying that the government would consider the idea of freezing the loan repayment threshold for five years, linking the student fee cap to inflation for any institution that can prove they have high-quality teaching.
However, many believe that implementing a loan system would directly impact the value students have on earning a higher education, calling it another barrier in the way of low-income students earning a university degree.
The National Union of Students called the decision “disgraceful” while arguing that students will now need to deal with a lifetime of debt:
“It’s a disgraceful change that basically punishes poorer students simply for being poor, so they have to take a bigger loan than those students from privileged backgrounds. It could put off students from underprivileged backgrounds from applying, who might not understand how the loan system works, or are very debt-averse,” said NUS vice-president Sorana Vieru.
The change in funding came at the same time as the release of a report by the Intergenerational Foundation lobby group stating that graduates will be unable to earn enough of a premium in their professional careers to pay back their student loans.
In response, the government have said that simply attending university will increase an individual’s employability and earnings.
But the government are under heavy criticism for the decision to limit freeze the student loan repayment threshold at £21,000, resulting in close to two million graduates paying more back on their loans than they had previously thought they would. This decision came despite 84% of respondents to a government consultation standing against the move, writes Aftab Ali for The Independent.
In the end, a Parliamentary debate occurred after more than 130,000 critics signed a petition pushing for the Tories to reverse their decision. According to the petition, the move “threatened any trust had in the student finance system.”