Students doubt the value of grant hike

January 23, 2004

As the higher education bill reaches its second reading on Tuesday, THES reporters weigh up the opposition and analyse the last-minute manoeuvring

Student grants could almost double to £2,700 by 2006 and be extended to more affluent students under plans being developed by the government.

Student leaders, however, are adamant that the proposals would leave students worse off.

With university bursaries, the new grant would take the sums for student support to at least £3,000 a year. However, maintenance loan entitlements would be cut to pay for the increased grant and fewer students than at present would see their fees fully paid.

The government hopes to increase the proposed £1,500 grant - announced with the higher education bill earlier this month - before the bill is passed into law, which is likely to be in the autumn.

Ministers expect civil servants to resolve technical issues before the bill gains royal assent and will issue updates on progress to the standing committee that will consider the bill after its second reading in the Commons next Tuesday.

The change represents a concession to rebel Labour MPs Peter Bradley and Alan Whitehead, who had called for postgraduation fee remission to be converted to upfront maintenance grants to meet student living costs. The pair are among MPs to withdraw opposition to the bill.

The new grant would combine the existing £1,500 maintenance grant with the £1,200 fee waiver. It would also be available to a greater proportion of students.

Under the present proposals, the full £1,500 grant would be available to students whose parental or family incomes are below £15,970 and a partial grant would be available to those with incomes between £15,970 and Pounds 22,0.

Mandy Telford, president of the National Union of Students, said: "On the surface, the £3,000 support looks like a better package. However, this is not new money; it is not a good deal for students from poor backgrounds. Under the present system, 40 per cent of students pay no fees but under this complex system of grants, fee remissions and bursaries, only 30 per cent get it.

"This should not be portrayed as a great package. Students are just getting assistance with a fee that they are currently exempt from paying. We are unimpressed with this concession."

Ms Telford added: "The suggestion that this new deal is better for students, when all it does is cover a tuition fee that is paid after graduation rather than before, is very misleading."

The revised plans would see the full £2,700 grant become available to students with parental or family incomes of below £15,970, and a partial grant would be available to those with incomes between £15,970 and Pounds 33,000.

Some 30 per cent of students would get the full grant and 50 to 55 per cent would get a full or partial grant.

But merging fee remission into a single combined grant would mean that all students - even those from the poorest backgrounds - would need to have the option of being able to take out a larger fee loan to cover their course fees. The cost of providing this loan would be recouped by cutting the maintenance loan by up to £850 a year.

The new maximum maintenance loans would be cut to £5,320 for students living away from home in London and £3,555 for those living away from home outside London.

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