THE BLOG

Chloe Smith, Hands off Our Grants

18/09/2015 11:48 BST | Updated 18/09/2016 10:12 BST

It's not news that students face enormous costs to be at university but the government has decided to make things even harder, proposing to scrap Maintenance Grants and replace them with loans.

Maintenance grants are given to students with financial difficulties to help them with their living costs at university. At the moment, around 500,000 rely on these grants and the government's decision would force students to take on a further debt to fund their studies.

That's why the NUS had organised a 'lobby your MP' day, taking place on Friday 18th September. We want to raise awareness on the importance of Maintenance Grants for our poorest students and let our MPs know that we refused to be shackled with debt.

The government claim that converting grants into loans will mean more 'money in the pockets' for students. Maintenance grants haven't kept up with living costs, so replacing them with loans is actually a progressive policy, or so they say, because it will offering increased amounts to match living costs. What they are less likely to mention however, is that the loans are still means-tested. That means that if you are a poorer student that needs more support, the more you debt you will stack up - saddling the poorest students with the financial burden for funding their education. Real progressive.

For many students from poorer backgrounds maintenance grants are an integral to their ability to access higher education. A recent NUS survey found that 35 per cent of respondents saying they wouldn't have gone to university if they had to take out a loan. Poorer students are also more likely to be averse to debt, and although 'traditional' student numbers have sustained through the increase in fees, intake of 'non-traditional' students such as part-time or mature students has drastically plummeted.

On top of that, Higher Education experts are sceptical that the scheme will even save any money. Transferring more students onto loans could add costs to the overall system, and would actually increase the national debt, potentially costing more in the long term.

All this has the potential to create another 'lost generation'. In the small former mining community where I grew up, we know the price of Tory cuts. The lack of jobs from the pit closures has created a vacuum from which for many making it to university is the only escape. The alternative is too often poverty, crime, and desperation.

That is why I will protesting outside of our MPs office today. Just asking our MPs nicely will not be enough. Students up and down the country will joining protests outside offices of their local MPs demanding that the grants are not scrapped. Students from University of East Anglia will be demonstrating outside the office of Chloe Smith, the Tory MP made infamous for the disastrous interview with Jeremy Paxman that put an abrupt end to her brief and uneventful stint as chief secretary to the Treasury. As someone with previous experience of watching future prospects evaporate in a heartbeat, you would expect a degree of sympathy for the young people for whom being priced out of education would be cutting off an often vital escape route.

Chloe hasn't listened. Students all week have been registering their opposition to the changes by add their signatures to a pledge, urging Chloe Smith to stand up for the students in her constituency and oppose any changes to grants. We will be delivering that plaque to her office.

We shouldn't expect poorer students are expected to pay more for the privilege to study. It isn't fair to shackling our young people with increasing amount of debt. Surely we looking to build a funding system for higher education that accessible and recognises the social benefits of education for all. After this, we will be sending coaches of students to protest outside the Tory Party Conference 4th October. We hope you will join us too.

Liam McCafferty is Postgraduate Education Officer, UEA SU