The ongoing joke of students is the lack of money they have. However, the image of a pale, laptop lit, skinny student eating their third pot noodle as they do an essay is not all that funny, really. Not when push comes to shove and the reality is that personal finance for a large amount of students is a huge trial.
The finance of students is particularly relevant currently as Theresa May has announced she intends to conduct an intense review of student finance in the UK (she says she intends to, whether anything will actually happen entirely depends on her and her new, dry cabinet). Despite doubts I have, this is probably good news.
“We have ‘one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world'”
Tuition fees have trebled since 2010, the maintenance grant has been squashed like an ant and interest on loans continues to rise. May has pointed out that we have ‘one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world’, something undeniably true. However, she expanded on this by stating that ‘the level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the cost’.
Here is where some side-eye starts to feel appropriate. What exactly is meant by ‘quality’? If she means that the fees don’t match what students get in return from universities, then by all means I agree. But, this doesn’t seem likely as it has been further implied by May that the government may consider lowering or raising fees based on some preconceived understanding of some degrees as worth more than others, such as STEM degrees. This is not good; if fees are raised for degrees considered worth more then surely this would only deter students from applying? Or vice versa, if they were raised for degrees deemed less financially beneficial at the end, then would it not do the same?
The significance of this potential review even has me agreeing with former Tory education secretary, Justine Greening. Greening has attacked the management of further education, demanding that it no longer be kicked around like a ‘political football’. She suggests that the best way to immediately deal with the pressing issues of student finance is to reintroduce maintenance grants and for interest rates be reduced to 0%. This reflects May’s assessment that the variable fees have failed to create the competitive market supposedly intended.
“41% of students have forgone food because of financial stress”
Furthermore, reintroducing the maintenance grant seems entirely necessary when we consider the real issue of the financial problems faced by students. Looking at statistics provided by both NUS and studentmoneysaver.co.uk, these issues are painfully visible: 41% of students have forgone food because of financial stress and 73.8% have stated their loan is too little to live on. Moreover, over a third of students worry about money all the time or very often– and over a third of students admit fiscal anxieties have heavily influenced their mental health.
These figures are substantial. When May takes her look at student finance, I hope she does not just look at the extortionate interest rates attached to the tuition loans which pay equally high tuition fees, but also at the low figures of maintenance loan versus high accommodation costs.
University is supposed to be a place of learning and of discovery, where students work hard to set out their futures. I can’t help but feel that for many students, this experience becomes one blighted by financial stress and an uneasy future- two things which could be resolved by a government willing to actually do something about it.