Education & Family

Labour challenges final end of student grants

Student protest Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Students protested in the autumn against plans to scrap maintenance loans

Labour is calling on the government to abandon its plan to scrap maintenance grants for the poorest students in England and replace them with loans.

In a debate in the House of Commons, Labour's Gordon Marsden will warn that not enough consideration has been given to the impact on low-income families.

From this autumn, means-tested grants are to be switched to loans repayable after graduation.

The government says the changes will mean extra support for students.

The motion to be put forward by Labour on Tuesday afternoon will call on the government to reverse its decision to remove the last non-repayable grants to help with students' living costs.

'Leap in the dark'

Until now, there has been a means-testing process for student living costs - with the poorest provided with up to £3,387 per year extra non-repayable support, with the aim of reducing financial barriers to university.

But instead of grants, under the system to be introduced by the government, all student finance will have to be repaid, once students have graduated and are earning at least £21,000 per year.

It will end the decades-long process which has seen student grants incrementally switching to loans.

Labour will argue that the scrapping of maintenance grants is not "technical tinkering" but a fundamental change in direction, which will affect half a million students from low-income families.

Mr Marsden, Labour's shadow universities minister, will say the decision is a "leap in the dark" introduced without adequate scrutiny for such a "step change".

The National Union of Students says many students are already struggling to meet their living costs, such as accommodation, transport and food.

NUS president Megan Dunn says the grants have been a "lifeline" for poorer students "important for helping students not just get to university but also to stay there".

Among those who will be starting this autumn, Ms Dunn said: "They have a real sense of having had this snatched away from them."

There have also been concerns raised at the decision not to increase the repayment threshold of £21,000 with inflation, which means that, in real terms, repayments begin at a lower rate.

The government has also indicated that it will allow universities to charge more than £9,000 per year for tuition fees, if they can show a high quality of teaching.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills says that the changes to student maintenance will mean more support for students when they most need it.

Students from the lowest-income households, studying outside London, will be able to borrow £8,200 per year, an increase of £766.

"Everyone with the potential to benefit from higher education should have the opportunity to do so and our policy means that a lack of finance should not be a barrier to participation," the spokesman said.

"Our changes will increase the overall living costs support we provide to students."

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