Recent proposals altering the Student Finance system have left students with prospects of increased debts and have halted the social mobility of many into higher education. Recent announcements suggest that current students, graduates and women of lower income will be the most affected by the government’s proposed changes to Student Finance. What are the government’s decisions and how will they affect students? Impact Features investigates.
Disabled Students’ Allowance
The government has announced that disabled student funding, otherwise known as the DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance) will be cut by £30 million. The DSA was put in place to support disabled students with the extra support needed for their daily activities whilst they study. However, cuts to the funding mean that universities and colleges will have to replace the money missing that the DSA would normally cover. National Union of Students (NUS) disabled students’ officer, Maddy Kirkman, was critical of the decision: “the NUS is concerned the government’s response to the consultation will impact the consistency of the support available and place a huge financial burden on some institutions”.
With the possibility of institutions being unable to support all disabled students in their studies, another huge concern is that this could limit opportunities in higher education for those with a disability. There are concerns, in particular, about the effect this could have on students with hearing impairments, as the new measures mean that note takers’ salaries will no longer be covered. The chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society spoke on the matter: “we are bitterly disappointed that the government has announced it will cut disabled students’ allowance, which is a lifeline for so many deaf students at university”.
“Cuts to the funding mean that universities and colleges will have to replace the money missing that the DSA would normally cover”
The freezing of the £21,000 threshold for the repayment of loans
Alongside the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative government planned on increasing the £21,000 threshold for repaying loans according to average earnings each year. However, plans have been announced that the government will now freeze the threshold at £21,000 for up to five years. A Sutton Trust study on the freeze has suggested that graduates from lower income backgrounds will be most affected by the decision as, on average, students will have to pay back an extra £2,800 due to the freeze. The Sutton Trust study also investigated the impact that the freeze would have on each gender. Due to the disparity of average wages between men and women, the results suggested that males would have to pay £2,200 more over 30 years than if the £21,000 was not frozen, whilst women will be even more affected having to pay back an extra £3,300.
Replacing maintenance grants with loans
The student population has yet again been betrayed by the government that promises social mobility and achievement regardless of background, something increasingly difficult when those of a lesser household income to their peers are left with more debt. Student loans and grants are given on the basis of income; at the moment, the maximum grant for those with a household income under £25,000 is £3,387 a year to meet the needs of their studies and give support in daily life. Grants are given to support those from lower income backgrounds going into higher education, hence, by turning a grant into a loan, it seems contradictory to the reason grants were introduced in the first place.
NUS research suggests that “50 percent of students’ parents believe that the government’s objective to increase access to university to poorer students” has not been successful, as they are being penalised with increased debts after education. The grant will be turned into a loan from September 2016. As loans are repayable once the student begins earning over £21,000, students will leave university after three years of study with an extra £12,500 on top of other costs. The maximum loan will be increased up to £8,200; however, like the rest of the student loan, will be repayable once the student is earning above £21,000. The decisions have left many worried that these measures could affect the decisions of poorer students interested in pursuing higher education and crush hopes of social mobility and equality in higher education.