THE BLOG

My Bursary Meant I Could Spend My Final Year In the Library, Not Manning a Till

20/01/2016 09:52 GMT | Updated 19/01/2017 10:12 GMT

The news last week that the conservative government is converting the last remaining non repayable grants and bursaries into loans for students is sadly becoming far from surprising. This extra support, given to the poorest or neediest students on top of their loans, can make the difference between accessing university or never setting foot on campus.

For others like me, whilst it may not be quite as stark as that, it can mean the difference between succeeding and doing yourself and your efforts justice - or standing behind a till, a bar or a checkout when you could be buried in the books that you came to uni to read in the first place.

I went to university in 2007 as a mature student to read Politics, turning 23 in my second week of term. Luckily I only had to pay £3,000 tuition fees per year, but being in Reading our living costs were almost as high as London, with none of the extra loan available to us that goes to students in the capital. Like thousands of students today, so often unfairly and lazily labelled tax-dodgers, I had a part time job (full time during the holidays) in a high street bank where I most certainly paid my taxes.

It's no exaggeration to say I needed this job. It was the difference between me staying at uni and dropping out. My better off peers though me really strange every Wednesday and Saturday going down for breakfast in hall in a bank uniform, but that was small price to pay for being able to support myself.

When I got to my final year the student loans company where finally able to treat me as a true mature student, i.e. someone financially self-sufficient and not relying on their parents. The fact I'd been this all along didn't matter, as the SLC were bound by law to treat me the same way as an 18 year old until I'd passed 25. The upshot was I received several hundreds of pounds on top of my loan as a bursary that I wouldn't have to pay back.

This bursary allowed me, for the first time in over three years, to give up my job and go to the library. It allowed me to research my dissertation and study for my finals. It meant the difference between a grade I could scrape and the grade I deserved. It meant simply all my years at university being worthwhile.

Getting that extra financial support in my final year made a huge difference to me. For the first time I could afford to move out of university halls of residence and share a house with my friends, something many would take for granted as a key part of student life. Crucially it also allowed me to give something back.

The freedom not having to man a till in the bank gave me allowed me to run to be President of my students union, where I successfully campaigned to give more financial support to the first cohort of students to pay £9000 a year. It's deeply depressing to see the support I lobbied so hard for that year being slashed by the government.

This is a government that infantilises young people with the one hand, while with the other taking swipes at them for not working hard enough or taking enough responsibility for their own lives. It scraps benefits for all young people while protecting those for the well-off elderly, who don't need them, with the vigour of a polecat guarding its nest.

These bursaries where comparatively small sums of money but they made a huge difference. Even Nick Clegg, continually derided for his tuition fee U turn, has said this week that bursaries were the "hidden reason why lots of those disadvantaged kids weren't being discouraged [from going to university]. I can't help but agree with Nick!

Bursaries aren't huge sums of money that irresponsible students go and splurge up the wall partying. They're modest amounts of money that make the difference between success and not even getting started. They helped people like me, and many far worse off, improve their lives and get into careers that they'd never be able to enter otherwise. They're also significantly less expensive than most non-means tested pensioner's benefits.

But what do I know, I'm probably still too young to have an opinion anyway...

Karl Hobley currently works in public relations and writes here in a personal capacity. He was previously President of Reading University Students' Union and a trustee of the NUS.