August 2016 brought the end to Maintenance Grants for students whose parents fell below a certain annual income bracket. The grants meant that some university students were entitled to up to £3,500 of taxpayer’s money, on top of their maximum Maintenance Loans, which they would never have to pay back. The absurd injustice of the grant is blatantly obvious to me but others were less enthused over the government’s decision to scrap it.
A little background: in order to facilitate living expenses while students are away at university, they are entitled to a Maintenance Loan, on top of the £9,000 per annum (on average) Tuition Fee Loan. The Maintenance Loan (outside of London) can range from approximately £3,550 to £8,200 per annum and the entitlement of each individual student is based on an assessment of their parents’ household income. After the student has graduated, their Maintenance Loan and Tuition Fee Loan will combine and the student will begin to gradually pay that back upon earning 21,000 per annum. On top of this, those students already receiving significantly larger loans, were given Maintenance Grants, meaning that the difference in the government funding between two students at the same university, doing the same course, could reach over £8,000, of which £3,500 would never have to be repaid.
In this day and age it is incongruous that parental income should factor into the support of their adult children. The way this system currently works makes it impossible for a large amount of students to afford rent and food without relying on their parents, regardless of whether they want to or not. Parents with multiple children at university are not taken into consideration and it is very common to find yourself only marginally above the highest income bracket, with often two or even three children to now fund almost entirely. Parents are not expected to pay their child’s student loans back if the child fails to and by that same logic their financial situation should remain a separate issue.
The loan only begins to be repaid upon reaching a salary of £21,000 and the repayments are not severe. Two students who have managed to graduate and obtain that benchmark salary are, thus, equally capable of repaying their loans. In fact it is entirely possible that someone who has received a Maintenance Grant at university goes on to become far more financially stable than someone who did not receive the maximum loan or grant and since no payment must be made until that financial marker of 21,000 is passed, it is outrageous to me that anything prior to that, including parental income, should be taken into account at all.
If students were all given the right to the maximum Maintenance Loan, without having to rely on parents, with whom one might have a turbulent relationship or upon whom one may not wish to place such a financial burden for personal gain, the system would work just as well and be far fairer. Naturally, many students would still seek parental help if it was available and may not choose to take the option of a maximum Maintenance Loan, but right now there simply is no choice.