Former Education Minister Justine Greening: Bring Back Maintenance Grants For Lower Income Students

Today Justine Greening finally said what so many students and graduates have been saying for the last two years

Former Education Minister Justine Greening: Bring Back Maintenance Grants For Lower Income Students

by Aida Amoako |
Published on

In 2015, the government announced that university maintenance grants for lower income students in England and Wales would be scrapped and replaced with loans. much to the alarm of thousands of students. According to the Chancellor at the time, George Osborne, the grants had become “unaffordable”, however many were worried it would deter lower income students from going to university.

The National Union of Students (NUS) condemned the move saying it would leave the poorest students ‘with a lifetime of debt.’ Sorana Vieru, vice president of the NUS, told BBC Breakfast ‘It’s a disgraceful change that basically punishes poorer students for being poor, so they have to take a bigger loan than those students from privileged backgrounds.’

Sir Peter Lampi, chairman of the Sutton Trust, a charity dedicated to improving social mobility, (and which gives lower income and inner-city students the chance to attend summer school at Oxbridge) said that ‘Since grants were reintroduced, there have been significant improvements in participation from full time less advantaged students’.

Greening, who was removed from her position as Education Secretary in a cabinet reshuffle earlier this year, spoke on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme about the grants, saying that they should be restored for lower income students citing worries about the high (6.1%) interest rates.

MORE: The Debrief's Student Loan Explainer

Late last year while still the Education Secretary, Greening was reported to be putting pressure on the government to find funding for the maintenance grants so that they could overturn the 2016 decision.

Angela Rayner, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education respondedto Justine Greening’s comments saying ‘Justine Greening is absolutely right that her own party’s decision to abolish maintenance grants was wrong and that it is the most disadvantaged families and students who have suffered.’

Students too, especially the post-2012 cohort who were the first to pay the new £9,000 fee, may feel especially vindicated as Greening's sentiments echo their ownwhen the change to the grants were first announced in 2015. Many discussed the stress the exorbitant amounts of money needed to attend university brings, as well the lack of financial support from channels and the struggle to support themselves while studying.

Students from families with annual incomes of £25,000 or less were awarded the full grant of £3,387. More than half a million students received a maintenance grant which helps them pay their rent, buy food and resources for university, and pay their bills. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institution (hepi) suggested the change left students with more money in their pockets, around £8200, the highest amount of funding ever given. But the difference of course, would be they would have to pay all of it back, instead of just around £3000.

There is much debate about whether tuition fees and loans are an actual debt or a tax on future earnings considering you stop paying them back after 30 years if you haven’t paid them off, and you only begin earning £25,000 (it was previously £21,000). But studies have shown that the prospect of large debts deters students from lower income backgrounds from attending university in the first place.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson drew criticism at the time for suggesting that university students should ‘live very modestly and have a frugal existence’, if they run out of cash, seeming not to realise that not only do many students already live frugally at university, they’ve come from frugal existences at home.

Justine Greening is now a backbencher who will not be able to oversee any possible changes to the tuition fee and grant system which she suggested needs to be more ‘progressive.’ Angela Raynor added: ‘If Justine Greening wants to bring back maintenance grants and abolish tuition fees, she should join Labour in voting for it. Labour has a fully costed plan to support students by restoring both EMA and grants, as well as abolishing the Tories' fees entirely.

Follow Aida on Twitter @kidisalright

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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