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We're constantly faced with the age-old idea that students who come from lower income families might be put off by the idea of going to university because of the financial cost. My personal experience however, has highlighted another issue with university fees. Not the fees themselves but specifically the maintenance loans provided by Student Finance England. The problem as it stood was this; I was entitled to a mere £1,100 every student loan day, which meant receiving that amount in October, January, April and then not again until the following October.
As you may have concluded, this ridiculous sum of money wouldn't even cover rent costs - as I had eventually moved out of my parents' home and was supposedly financially independent. Student Finance England deduced that this amount of money was sufficient for one person to live off, including rent, bills, travel costs, food and university supplies. When living with my parents yes, of course this was sufficient, but problems arose when I became independent, at the age of 22. (I had taken a couple of years out to travel meaning I was a couple of years older than your average student.) The rules of Student Finance England point out that unless you can prove - God knows how - that you have been completely financially independent for something like, the past 5 years, then until the grand old age of 25, your parents' income is taken into consideration, whether you live with them or not and whether or not they actually fund you in any way.
My conclusion was that simply, the government was telling my Dad - who has worked hard all of his life to eventually earn a very good salary - that he was financially responsible for his (now 23 year old) daughter, whether I lived at home or not because I was in full time education, in hope of achieving my ideal career. Could my parents afford this? Luckily, yes. Could everyone in this situation afford to do this? Unfortunately not. Part time jobs certainly don't cover the costs of living in shared accommodation, so what do you do? Work more hours so your bills are covered and let your degree bear the brunt of the time you've had to commit elsewhere, or do you carry on with your degree and lay the burden of your finances at the door of your family?
Photo from largerfamilylife.com
So when characters like Tamwar on BBC's Eastenders claim they will have to struggle to save money so they can attend university, due to not having a particularly high household income, it really gets my back up. You don't have to 'save up' Tam, because Student Finance England will provide you with a sufficient loan for you to pay back just as easily as everyone else does when you hopefully get a graduate job and furthermore, will provide you with a chunky grant, courtesy of the tax payer, that you'll never have to pay back, to help you out because your household income isn't over the threshold they've decided upon.
Student loans are just that - loans, a loan which many successful graduates pay back, especially those who know exactly what their aim after graduation is and therefore continue to push until they get there. So whilst lower income families may be put off by the idea of the humongous, unnecessary student debt, there are those from middle income families who also struggle to get through university. Parents are not responsible for the finances of their 18-25 year old children simply because the parents themselves earn a decent wage, at least those from low income families have the option of either opting out of a degree course or proceeding with enough money to survive on during their university years. Unless you're unfortunate enough to lose contact with your family and can prove that the worst has happened - irreconcilable estrangement, or perhaps the passing of particular family members - then be prepared to have to ring your parents every five minutes to ask for your rent to be paid, or your gas bill or for money for travel costs and then have your ears boxed for constantly asking for money when that, in reality, is not the situation you want to be in either.
So next time you hear someone explain that they 'can't afford to go to university' because they're from a low income family, please introduce them to the calamity that is Student Finance England.