‘Students are worried’ – the realities behind government proposals to reduce maintenance grants
It was one of the stand-out, and more controversial, elements of the new budget announced by Chancellor George Osborne in July, hitting the headlines and causing nationwide debate. We’re of course talking about the changes to university maintenance grants.
Under the current system, students in England and Wales from families with annual incomes of £25,000 or less are eligible for a non-repayable grant of £3,387 a year. From September 2016, these grants will be replaced by maintenance loans of up to £8,200 a year which students will be expected to pay back, along with tuition fee loans, once they earn over £21,000 a year. Unsurprisingly, the changes were greeted with criticism, with many arguing that low and middle income students would be put off university by these measures.
Is the future as bleak as the headlines suggest? We spoke to Dr Penelope Griffin, Head of Widening Participation at Nottingham, to find out what are the realities facing students and universities as a result of the changes.
Financial concerns are one of the leading factors in university choice
“I suspect that students will cope with the change better at some universities than others. Financial concerns are a big factor when students are choosing their universities – our own scholarship recipients tell us that scholarships influence around one-third of them to choose Nottingham. Scholarships are also extremely important in helping students once studying – 87% of recipients at Nottingham told us they need to do less paid work during term-time, thanks to the financial support they receive from us, allowing them to concentrate on their degrees. We’re only able to offer a high level of support thanks to the generosity of our donors.”
Students are worried – we need to increase our efforts to support them
“There is plenty of evidence to suggest that students are worried about the prospect of accruing large debts. The fact that enrolments of lower-income students have risen nationally is, I think, due to concerted efforts across the country. When one piece of the support jigsaw changes – in this case, the replacement of the Government grant by a loan – we need to increase our efforts in other areas.”
“I’m immensely proud of our widening participation programme at Nottingham. We’re having a huge impact, from enthusing primary school children about education, to doubling a sixth-former’s chances of entering a leading university. Our work has resulted in a considerable increase in our intake of low-income students, from 17% in 2004 to 27% in 2014, one of the best improvements out of the leading UK universities. But we have ambitious targets for the future, and the implications of the changes to the maintenance grants make our work even more crucial.”
How can you help make a difference?
Talent and a desire to learn have always defined a Nottingham student – and we want this to continue. Without the financial support we offer to low-income students, many simply would not be able to afford university. And without the support of donations from our alumni, we wouldn’t be able to offer financial help to those students who need it most.
We need your help to ensure that bright students from disadvantaged backgrounds are able to accept their place at Nottingham and enjoy access to the education and experiences they deserve. Find out how you can support us by visiting our alumni website.
Posted on Thursday 27th August 2015. Courtesy of the University of Nottingham