Government abandons less well-off students with grants-to-loans, says Newcastle MP

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14 Jan 2016
Government plans to abolish university grants for students from less well-off backgrounds have been condemned as ‘unfair and undemocratic’ by Newcastle’s Labour MP Paul Farrelly.

The controversial move on Thursday is being pushed through ‘by the back door’ in Parliament, through a so-called ‘statutory instrument’ in an upstairs Committee room, rather than after a full debate on the House of Commons floor.

Currently, students from less well-off families can obtain grants to help cover essential living costs like rent, foods, bills and study materials, but will now instead only be available as loans, adding to the current debt burden of around £45,000 after graduation.

Speaking today, Mr Farrelly said: ‘When the Tory-Lib Dem coalition triples university fees to £9,000, we were told by ministers that an increase in maintenance grants would ensure that students from poorer backgrounds would not be disproportionately affected.’

‘Now, however, we see the government railroading through further changes by the back door which will see those students saddled with the highest debts – and it will put more people off  applying for university altogether. It is wholly unfair and undemocratic.’

Better maintenance grants were one of the last remaining vestiges of major concessions secured as a result of the Labour backbench rebellion – which Mr Farrelly helped co-ordinate - when variable tuition fees were first introduced by the Blair government in 2004.

After 2010, however, the then cap on fees at £3,000 was done away with by the coalition government; and after today’s move, less well-off students will only have discretionary bursaries from universities, introduced as part of the concessions, to ease their debt burden. 

Rather than being subjected to the usual, full parliamentary scrutiny, the government has ensured that MPs did not have the chance to hold ministers properly to account in the Commons. This was despite concerns over a lack of proper consultation, and the failure of the Conservatives to include such a major policy change in their election manifesto.

‘The government is quite plainly doing everything in its power to strip away everything we fought so hard for over a decade ago,’ Mr Farrelly said.

‘Bursaries given by universities are not wholly transparent, so it is hard to measure what help they are to students at the moment.’

‘What we need now is a full review and report by the Office for Fair Access, which monitors fees and bursaries, so we can see what there is left to safeguard opportunities for less well-off students to go to university.’
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