THE BLOG
02/02/2016 12:19 GMT | Updated 02/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Why the Government is Wrong to Abolish Maintenance Grants

On the 19th January 2016, MPs debated a motion calling on the government to abandon its policy on replacing maintenance grants with loans. The MPs voted against this motion by 306 to 292. A final debate took place in the House of Lords on 25th January 2016. The Government claims 'Our system means that students who earn the most contribute more towards the costs of their education'. Arguably they neglect to consider students with disabilities, religion and belief, ethnicity and low-income groups.

As someone who has had to rely on two jobs, two bursaries, one maintenance grant and one maintenance loan, I cannot begin to tell you how much a maintenance grant meant to me. It meant much more than money. It meant I actually belonged at university. I study Law which is still regarded as a 'snobby' degree in some perspectives despite recent socio-economic programmes, such as Pathways to Law. On my first week of university, a small minority of fellow students stated claims such as 'I own some of my Dad's business and he is a millionaire, 'My parents work in oil' and 'I went to a private school worth 30 thousand pounds a year'. Having never been exposed to this environment before, I actually felt like I did not belong at university. I was simply a daughter of a shop assistant wanting to better my future. A maintenance grant to me provided me with the hope for a better future, stability and an opportunity to improve my situation. It meant that the government and this country were supporting me in what I am doing and that despite coming from a low-income background, I do actually belong at university. That hope is priceless.

My household income is seventeen thousand pounds a year. With tuition fees currently at nine thousand pounds a year and my maintenance loan and grant combined together is nearly eight thousand pounds a year, the cost of attending university for just one year is actually more than my household income. How could I justify or even consider the prospective of attending university if I did not have any help such as bursaries and the maintenance grant?

I have always wanted to go to university but in year nine of secondary school, I was placed in the lower bands for GCSE which meant that I could only finish school with only five GCSEs. I was terribly upset so my mother went to the school to argue my case. The Head of Year Nine said 'Emily is a lovely girl but she has no academic ability'. This could be very damaging for a teenage to hear but I used this as motivation to prove the teacher wrong. This example also shows that if children from lower-income backgrounds are taught they should restrict their options, they could actually believe that they are unable to achieve. Ironically in Year Ten, the Head of Sixth Form placed me on an 'Aim Higher Programme' which was a widening participation initiative to encourage students from minority groups to look at their options at university. I absolutely loved this programme and realised if I worked hard, I can have the results I need to attend university. Without a doubt, this programme was instrumentally in improving my confidence to apply to university. However in 2010 Conservative MP, David Willetts, announced the closure of this programme. I really do not understand why the Government is seemingly determined to not raise the aspirations of those from lower-income backgrounds and minority ethnic groups.

Some may argue that the Government is encouraging aspirations by introducing apprenticeships. My two younger sisters are currently on an apprenticeship and are training to become junior accountants. They have their professional examinations and education paid for them. Whereas on the other hand, when I originally applied to university there were no apprenticeships for Law and the only way to be successful was to have a degree. Is this not encouraging the law profession to remain 'snobby'? Why should I have to change my goals simply because I come from a lower-income background?

I also read the Student Finance Equality Analysis report on maintenance grants. It stated that 'There are groups of Muslim students whose religion prohibits them from taking out an interest bearing loan' and maintenance grants 'could lead to a decline in the participation of some Muslim students'. I will not pretend to know an awful lot about Islam but surely if Islam is the second largest religion in the United Kingdom, this will segregate a high proportion of the population.

A maintenance grant provided me with hope and confidence that I did belong at university. Without the grant, I would never have entertained the prospective of university. This government seems hell bent on severely restricting the options of minority groups and reinforcing the stereotype that only the privilege should attend university.