At the start of the next academic year, maintenance grants will be gone. And with this move, the last scrap of social mobility in the higher education system will be dead. In place of the grants will come loans, which students will be expected to pay oﬀ on top of their existing debt. As a result, the huge levels of debt which currently sit at around £40,000 per student – plus interest – will increase to a crippling £53,000.
What this means is that students will pay back more money for a longer time. For every pound over £21,000 that you earn each year – the income at which you start to pay oﬀ the debts – the government will take 15p in student loans repayments. This is almost as much as they take in income tax, and more than they take in national insurance contributions.
This £21,000 repayment threshold, unlike tuition fees, will not rise with inﬂation as it has now been frozen. This is barely a subsistence wage and probably a below subsistence wage should you have the audacity to live in London or have children. That one is expected to start paying such a high price at such a modest income is a disgrace.
What is particularly unjust about the system of debt is that the poor will pay more than the rich. While high earners will be able to repay their debts quickly and before interest builds up, lower earners will spend longer repaying their debts and therefore spend more on interest.
35 per cent of students say that they would not have been able to attend university without the maintenance grants. The extent to which the scrapping of the grants will have an eﬀect on access to education is diﬃcult to forecast but what is certain that those poor students who do choose to study after ﬁnishing school will be punished for it.
There is something particularly chilling about the process in which this was done being absent from the Tories’ election manifesto, they have no mandate to scrap the grants at all.
The ten MPs who did vote to scrap the grants have never had to face the levels of debt that they are forcing on students, nor will they ever have to. They are from the generation that beneﬁtted from both free education and government grants, and now they are kicking the ladder down from underneath their own feet.
The government says that it is not able to aﬀord the grants, yet each year it spends £85 billion on payouts to large businesses in the form of corporate welfare, loses £119 billion in tax evasion and will spend £167 billion on replacing the trident nuclear weapons system. By contrast, the grants cost £1.3 billion.
The scrapping of the grants therefore, like so many of the Tories’ cuts, is completely ideological. They are committed to cutting spending wherever they can, no matter the eﬀects on the poor. The party dominated by those notorious for trashing restaurants and burning £50 notes in front of the homeless during their time at university would probably like nothing more than to price out the poorer students and make universities every bit as elitist and exclusionist as the public schools that they attended themselves.