Opinion: The Real Cost of Education
The abolishment of low income student grants...
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While this may understandably seem a very sudden blow to those considering going to university, the move towards making it more and more expensive to be a student has been a decades-long gradual incline. Until September 1998, there were no tuition fees for UK students. In fact, the government actually owed students money in the form of a maintenance grant, which was introduced following the Education Act of 1962.
In 1990, when the Student Loans Company was founded, these were paired with low-interest loans. Since then, the student finance available has generally risen with inflation. For example, a student living outside of London but away from their parents could get a grant of up to £3387 in the 2015/16 academic year.
Indeed, supporters of the abolition of maintenance grants argue that the increase in total support available to the highest amount ever seen (admittedly, all of it repayable) cushions the blow.
While financial support for students is still available (and, if you’ll believe the Conservatives, better than ever before), the massive rise in tuition fees - as well as the cuts to student finance - have left a bad taste in many potential students’ mouths.
It is almost paradoxical then, that the proportion of young people entering university has increased significantly in recent years. In the 2013/14 academic year, an estimated 49% of young people entered higher education, compared to 43% in 2006/7 and even lower levels decades ago in the years of free tuition fees.
An important note to make though, is the swing from low skill and manual jobs to those requiring graduates. Some careers that existed 30 years ago are virtually non-existent now, and similarly, we are now witnessing more brand new fields come into being, demanding a skill force of more graduates than ever before, especially in careers such as IT, science and engineering.
The extent to which we can say that the impact of several governments successively increasing the cost to students has had no effect, therefore, is questionable. For example, in a survey conducted by The Student Room - a large and representative community of students from across the UK and beyond - it was found that of over than 5,000 students surveyed, a fifth said that they do not feel they would be able to afford to go to university due to the move towards making all student financial support repayable.Furthermore, over 66% said that they would rather start earning money now rather than be saddled with debt for years to come.
This information indicates a much more worrying picture than student enrolment rates suggest, especially in a country where highly skilled graduate jobs are in more demand than ever before. As highlighted by Stalybridge and Hyde MP Jonathan Reynolds in the Commons following the Budget, the repayment of loans will be followed by higher pension contributions and housing costs than previous generations.
So, are these new policies unfair and discriminatory to the younger population, or simply the way that the current government must balance its budgets? The only people who can truly answer that are students themselves, and the question of whether enrolment rates will drop is simply a waiting game.