STUDENT FINANCE – COUNTING THE COST OF BASIC UNFAIRNESS

by Rowan Van Tromp

This summer George Osborne announced that the current system of non-repayable, means-tested maintenance grants would be scrapped and replaced by additional maintenance loans. He deemed it “basic unfairness” to ask taxpayers to fund grants for people who are likely to earn a lot more than them.

Perhaps then it’s his experiences of the tax affairs of Tory party benefactors, such as Michael Ashcroft (also known as Lord Ashcroft to those who adhere to the moronic social phenomenon of ‘peerage’), that blinds the Chancellor from the logical conclusion that earning more justifiably means paying higher taxes, to, for instance, provide an equal means by which people can access higher education.

To compound the lunacy of this statement further it will, in many cases, be the children of the very taxpayers Mr Osborne refers to that are having their grant support removed. I wonder if these many thousands of parents are feeling a sense of basic unfairness, already safe in the knowledge that their working tax credits are being cut, whilst multinational parasitic corporations see their tax liability fall. Again! Despite the fact we already have the lowest corporation tax rate in the G20.

(George Osborne © Getty)

Back to the point ¬— all of this means that students from low-income households, attending university from September 2016, will have to borrow more money to cover their living costs. The maximum amount students living away from home, and outside of London, can apply for is £8,200. Whilst this rises to £10,702 for students relocating to London, high rent costs are still a substantial barrier to studying in the capital, as exemplified by a recent study from the London School of Economics and the Sutton Trust which highlighted that only 6% of graduates moving to London are from poorer areas. It’s also worth mentioning here that despite similarly high rent costs in places like Cambridge, no additional support is provided.

Whilst these figures do represent an increase on the current support available, students from lower income backgrounds have no choice but to borrow more, and will come out with more debt than any student before them. The combined liability carried by students from the lowest income bracket, studying full time, away from home and outside London, at a university charging the £9,000 maximum annual fee over three years, will amount to £51,600. That’s without including the onerous effects of compound interest, an effect vastly more likely to hit students from disadvantaged homes.

Yet again it is a Tory government policy to punish the poor for being poor.

Why should it be the case that such students studying exactly the same course, at exactly the same institution, are required to borrow in such excess compared to their wealthy counterparts, to access the same standard of education, simply because they weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth? Have they not worked equally hard, perhaps harder, given the difference in standards of education between state-run and private schools, not to mention the huge cuts to further education funding, to meet the entry requirements?

(© Twitter/LSE Students’ Union/@lsesu)

Let me be clear on this, I am not deploring the access to higher education per se, indeed loans are accessible and repayments are linked to income, making them manageable. What I am deploring is the unequal means by which access is achieved. Yet again it is a Tory government policy to punish the poor for being poor. A policy that smacks of resentment among Tory ranks that poorer students should even be given the opportunity to access higher education; a policy that reinforces their own idea of a socially stratified society.

university is an extremely appealing experience and the government know this

Yes, it may be the case that more students than ever before are going to university from poorer backgrounds, but compared to the bleak alternatives available for young people, university is an extremely appealing experience and the government know this. They know that despite huge concern among students at the growing costs of university, they will still go.

Once more it’s the Tory Party’s ideological obsession with market forces over social justice, tunnels their vision of university, as being an inelastic good prime for exploitation. They will continue to load up the debt cart as high as it can go and are currently consulting on freezing the repayment threshold and reviewing the discount rate applied to student loans, so that they can squeeze more money out of graduates. You’ve got until the 14th of October to have your say on this, so make sure your voice is heard.

Don’t forget there is also a national demo in London on the 4th of November for free education and living grants. See you there!

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