Universities risk losing students who rely on maintenance grants as they call the decision between not pursuing education or borrowing up to £53,000 from the government “pathetic”.
Kingston University students said that George Osborne’s decision to scrap the grants in September 2016 and replace them with loans will create “resentment from the working class” towards the government.
A Union of Kingston Students member said: “This is obviously an elitist situation. It started when the fees rose up to £9,000 and now this is just the next step to increase the gap between the rich and the poor.”
Ruth Chittock, a landscape architecture masters student who works for UKS, said that there was a huge influx of students applying for university this year at the last minute because they knew it would be their last chance to get a grant.
Andrew Weymiss, 21, a third year history student, is among the 500,000 students in England who received a government grant for his three academic years.
“By doing this the government is financially crippling the young,” he said. “The grant is immensely useful and basically keeps me afloat financially, as my initial loan barely covers my rent, let alone books and other expenses.”
Weymiss must work alongside his studies as he does not receive much help from his parents and said it would be a lot harder to budget if he did not get the full grant of £3,387 a year.
The student from Portsmouth said: “I would have to work a lot more hours which would most likely affect my grades. I think the scrapping of maintenance grants and turning them into loans is just pathetic.”
The National Union of Students has decided to bring legal action against the government after George Osborne’s budget announcement in July, sending a legal letter to the secretary of state for business.
NUS president Megan Dunn said that there is “strong evidence” that converting grants into loans will mean that university becomes “less accessible to minority groups”.
A survey by the NUS also revealed that a third of the students would not be in university without the government’s financial help, with 52 per cent of the students eligible for a maintenance grant stating that it was “absolutely essential” for them.
Students are now stuck between a rock and a hard place, where they have to choose to either go to university – and watch their debt add up before they turn 25 -, or not go to university at all.
Fine art student Becca Davis, 20, has received a maintenance loan every year and said she would not be able to live in Kingston if she did not get it.
“I wouldn’t think twice because I wouldn’t be able to afford the accommodation and all the rest with the loan, even with a job. I don’t have a choice really,” said Davis.
The new system will scrap the grants entirely for people starting university in the year of 2016/2017 and allow students from low-income families to apply for a loan of up to £8,200, depending on their household income.
Students from households with an annual income of £25,000 or less will be eligible to the full loan, which means an increase of £12,500 to the current level of tuition fees, to a total of £53,000 of debt.
Unlike the grants, which did not have to be paid back, students will have to repay the maintenance loans as soon as they earn over £21,000 a year, the same as with tuition fees. The loan repayment threshold will be frozen for five years.
Mr Osborne argued during his Budget speech that grants were costing the taxpayer a total of £1.57bn a year and that there was a “basic unfairness in asking taxpayers to fund grants for people who are likely to earn a lot more than them”.
As for students from poorer backgrounds, the impact is more psychological rather than practical when deciding whether to apply for university or not.
“I personally would still apply, but I would definitely think more carefully,” said Andrew Weymiss.