One of the biggest stories of the recent General Election was the backlash towards Nick Clegg for raising tuition fees. After pledging to cut tuition fees altogether, he actually voted in favour of trebling them! The backlash against the tuition fee rise started almost immediately - student support for the party dropped from 42% to 11% and in the end only 8 Lib Dem MP's remained in parliament after the election.
In a lot of ways, however, the biggest story on tuition fees seems to have been missed. Nick Clegg has repeatedly spoke about how the new system will force institutions charging the highest amount to accept more students from poor backgrounds. The one problem with this, however, is that the system fails to financially support the living costs of these students when they are at university.
Students from poor backgrounds are able to take out "maintenance loans" - which allows students to borrow money to help pay for living costs. The amount available to students is £5,555 outside of London and £7,751 inside of London - which is almost certainly not enough. A survey from Experian last year found that most parents need to find an extra £5,000 per year to help cover costs... and most cannot do so.
There are grants available, but the grants are dependent on the income of the students parents. The full grant is only available to students who's parents earn a combined income of less than £25,000. On top of that, if a students parents earn a combined amount of more than £42,620 they are considered to be "rich parents", which means they have no access to a grant.
The expectation is that the parents of students will help support their child through university. But, unfortunately, parents from less affluent backgrounds are unable to afford these extra costs. Many parents are having to make the decision to cut down costs at home the help their child. The Experian study found that hundreds of thousands of parents are having to cut down on their "basic outgoings".
For students who don't have the financial support of parents, the only real option to avoid financial difficulties is to take a part time job. Almost two-thirds of students are currently in part time work at the minute, Taking out a part time job ends up encroaching on the time students have to carry out study and complete their work. Many students end up responding to these time constraints by paying people to complete their work for them. For students needing to choose between turning down work, missing out on pay and risking being seen as unreliable by their employer, which could mean they miss out on future house, paying around $14 for an essay on a website like domypapers.com is often seen as a better solution.
While most of the focus is understandably on the rise of cost of student loans, the financial struggles for university students is just as important. When a student is paying up to £9,000 a year to go to university, the pressure is on them to ensure they walk away with a qualification. When they cannot afford to pay for rent or food, it is likely that the stress will impact their studies - especially if their parents cannot assist them in any way. Taking a part-time job is always going to impact on the time students can apply to their studies, leading to an impact in the quality of their work - or a nudge towards alternatives.
If we really want to support students from poorer backgrounds to continue with further education, which is something Jeremy Corbyn has said would form part of his Labour education policy if he becomes leader, we need to focus on assisting them with the cost of living. Otherwise, no matter how much opportunity is available to them, the chances for them to take advantage of those opportunities will be very slim indeed.