England Labour Tuition Fees Youth Interests

Why We Should Be Talking More About Maintenance Loans

It's not just tuition fees, the lack of funding available just to be able to live while at university is a real problem for young people.

Samuel Young

Naked Politics Blogger 

During the recent election campaign, much was made of the issue of tuition fees. Labour were vocal of their wish to eradicate the current £9,000 loan for tuition, but I feel there is a financial elephant in the room. For anyone who is at or has been to university, it will come as no surprise that I am talking about maintenance loans.

The effects of maintenance loans are felt from day one of your time at university. I have just finished my first year of a Law degree at the University of Nottingham and like many students across the country spent my first year in halls. I had a standard room with no ensuite or fancy add-ons on a 39-week contract and yet was still charged just shy of £6,400. This was without paying for laundry, fees relating to my course such as textbooks or a dinner suit that is mandatory for certain meals at the end of each term. This brought the cost of my first year of university to around £7,000. The maintenance loan system is means tested and I regard myself as from a working-class family, yet my loan doesn’t get anywhere near covering the £7,000 figure. I regard myself as one of the lucky ones because I managed to get a full-time summer job and have financially supportive parents who have helped me immensely. Some of the people I went to secondary school with however, have chosen to go into an apprenticeship or stay at home and go to local, less renowned universities simply because they can’t afford to stay in halls. For those of us who braved the move into halls, it has been a huge financial risk. Throughout my first year I have spoken to many people who are thousands of pounds into their overdraft and even more who have been forced to leave university because they can’t afford it. It is very disappointing that in 2017, working class children are still unable to go to university purely down to their financial situation.

It would be wrong of me to suggest that it is only working-class students who are financially struggling. The means test used to calculate the loan is weighted mainly by your parents’ financial situation. The general rule is that the more the parents earn, the less the child gets as a loan. The problem with this is that just because parents earn a lot of money, it doesn’t mean that they are going to support their child financially any more than someone who earns significantly less. The end result is yet more poor students. Rightly or wrongly, the University of Nottingham has a reputation of being full of rich kids, yet I can tell you that many of my ‘rich’ friends are just as financially strained as myself.

As I look to the final two years of my degree, my financial worries are still prevalent; I’m moving into rented student accommodation. I am living with five other second years and we have a 52 week contract at a cost of £90 a week excluding bills and food. My loan doesn’t even cover the £4,680 annual rent cost without the additional costs that includes a £400 bus pass. The thought of dropping out has crossed my mind because I can only see financial hardship on the horizon. It is a shame that academically able students are being forced out of higher education due to the financial burden it places on them.

So what can be done about the issue? It’s clear that maintenance loans aren’t enough to cover the rising prices that universities and private landlords are charging students. The government needs to introduce a cap that can bring the costs down to a level that is actually affordable for students. The PM recently boasted in PMQ’s that more students from poor backgrounds were going to university, which is true, but this still doesn’t address the issue that more and more are becoming impoverished and debt riddled during their studies. So, to both the Tories and Labour, I say if you want to make a real change to young people’s lives and help them through university and into the ‘real world’ then you must do more to make sure that they can afford to do so. If this doesn’t happen and prices continue to rise as they have, then the only logical conclusion is that more and more young people are going to be unable to afford to be able to attend university.

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