THE BLOG

Complacency From the Prime Minister Will Not Guarantee Access to Education

21/01/2016 09:33 GMT | Updated 21/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Prime Minister's Questions this week showed that David Cameron has not considered the consequences of his decision to scrap maintenance grants. Maintenance grants support some 500,000 of the poorest students. Converting these to loans will mean hundreds of thousands will graduate with debt of up to £53,000. These very facts was put directly to the Prime Minister at PMQs in the House of Commons and the complacency of his answer says it all.

This government has done everything it can to hide from scrutiny over its decision. It just doesn't want to face up to the reality that scrapping grants will see the poorest students graduate with the highest levels of debt. But it is also trying to bury this debate to cover its tracks. David Cameron was rightly challenged on the fact that these changes were never part of the Conservative Party manifesto in the election last year. Quite to the contrary, even the Conservatives admitted that targeted support for the poorest students, through grants, was crucial when the Coalition government voted to treble tuition fees. It is no wonder the government has tried to hide from a debate on this very issue. It even tried to use an obscure committee in Parliament - called a 'Delegated Legislation Committee' - to avoid a debate.

After strong public pressure from my union, and students' unions across the country, the debate the Tories never wanted us to have was finally held in Parliament. Thanks to the help and support of opposition MPs from Labour, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, the Green Party and the DUP, we got to challenge the government on its decision. Whilst we came just 11 votes away from stopping these incredibly damaging plans, the government can no longer say it wasn't warned about the real impact scrapping grants will have. Our work now continues and the Lords will have an opportunity to hold the government to account. We have fought hard to be heard on this issue and it is extremely concerning how far the government has gone to avoid scrutiny on a decision that has little public support.

The government is insisting scrapping grants will improve access to education. Our own research shows this isn't true - with the vast majority of future students and their families saying this will make them think twice about studying. When you add this fact to the government's desire to avoid scrutiny, it's hardly surprising to see that ministers have resorted to nothing more than petty insults by calling my union the 'National Union of Shroud Wavers'. It is particularly crass of ministers to make jokes when scrapping support for 500,000 of the poorest students and it is demeaning to the work of students' unions across the country who have had to fight to put this issue on the agenda.

His complacency on the future of hundreds of thousands of students shows us that the Prime Minister, like his former deputy, may well come to regret this decision.