Today the government has pushed ahead with its plans to scrap maintenance grants for the poorest students. By moving to force through these changes from behind closed doors and avoiding a real debate in parliament, George Osborne is ignoring the very real concerns of students.
The impact of these changes on families who have lower incomes should not be dismissed so easily by the government. Students from poorer backgrounds who rely on maintenance grants to make education more affordable will be expected to take on up to £12,000 more debt than they currently do. Research undertaken by my union, together with Populus, has also uncovered evidence that shows the real scale of the concern that parents have too. We surveyed parents whose children would have qualified for means-tested grants in the future. Worried for the future prospects of their children, half of these parents believe the government's plan to scrap grants will undermine access to university for poorer students. They are concerned that the loss of this funding and the increase in debt will discourage their children from applying to university.
Ministers are simply refusing to listen and easily dismiss the real concerns of students and parents who have a right to be worried. But whilst the government talks a good game of economic security it is happily indebting the next generation with crippling, mortgage level, debts. Over 50 per cent of all parents, regardless of their income, also believe that piling debts of up to £50,000 and more onto the poorest students is bad for the long term prospects of the economy. Yet despite all this ministers are still refusing to listen.
If ignoring students and their parents wasn't bad enough, the government is also refusing to allow proper scrutiny of its plans. Whilst the scale of the opposition mounting to the plans, and the huge contribution of MPs trying to resist the scrapping of grants, is growing every day - the government is pushing on regardless. Today it pushed its changes through a 'Delegated Legislation Committee' which had no formal powers to reject the measures. Interventions made by opposition MPs from both Labour and the SNP against the plans as well as the process are incredibly welcome and will be met with warm support from students and their parents across the country. But even under the threat of legal action, the government still hasn't even owned up to the true scale of the impact on students from the poorest families.
It is worrying just how far the government is going to avoid being held to account on this decision. These are plans that don't have public support and will have a widespread impact on education. When students are already facing rising debts, piling even greater sums on the shoulders of the poorest students is extremely unfair.
If the government truly cares about widening access, it must urgently halt its plans to shut out poorer students from their education. I hope that in the coming days, peers in the House of Lords will be on the side of students and parents who are rightly worried about losing grants.
Megan Dunn is the national president of the National Union of StudentsSuggest a correction