Students must shift the conversation from fees to loans

Maintenance Loans

Credit: Rowan Dayton-Oxland

Georgina Hayes
Views Editor

It’s outrageous that £57,000 of debt won’t even pay your rent

On 30 September, The Telegraph published a laughable and thinly-veiled attempt at rehabilitating the Conservative Party’s reputation with students. The article, ludicrously but not ironically, titled “Theresa May’s tuition fees revolution to win over students”, claims that this revolution entails a freeze in tuition fees. This comes, of course, after the Conservative government oversaw an increase in tuition fees alongside the scrapping of maintenance grants – something that has indisputably made the facts of university life more difficult for working-class students.

From a Conservative MP retaliating against Jeremy Corbyn’s Glastonbury appearance by creating an invitation-only “Conservative Ideas Festival” to Jacob Rees-Mogg and his 1950s-brand of politics being pedalled as the party’s new hope, the Tories seem to be doing everything politically possible to become an irrelevant, archaic laughing stock among young voters.

Still, the Conservatives aren’t the only party now feeling the pressure to appeal to young voters: with voter turnout within the 18-25 year old demographic at an all-time high, the toxic issue of tuition fees now has all major political parties scrambling desperately to lessen the huge financial blow that attending university has become. The crucial reality they’re blind to, though, is that no amount of promises on tuition fee reform will make life any easier financially for most students.

No amount of political pandering can change the stark reality that all students but a lucky, privileged few face; arbitrary maintenance loan caps make living while studying obscenely difficult at best, and impossible at worst.

This endemic of unaffordability doesn’t just impact the poorest students: anyone whose household income exceeds £38,000 a year – a position relatively easy to be in with two working parents – will find themselves within the lowest threshold of loan entitlement. This comes at the consequence of the average student, according to The Guardian, being left £265 short a month. For the vast majority of students, myself included, the amount of student finance we’re entitled to doesn’t even cover our monthly rent, let alone living costs. These absurdly low caps on entitlement force many students to pick up part time work that negatively impacts their studies and wellbeing. The alternative to this is parents picking up the financial slack; but while aid from the “bank of mum and dad” might be a lucky fact of life for wealthier students, for most families it’s a huge financial strain.

As it currently stands, the maintenance loan system lumps students whose parents earn less than £40,000 a year in the same financial boat as those that were lucky enough to have that same amount spent on one year of their private education. At a relatively privileged and elite university like Glasgow, countless students from modest backgrounds find themselves gritting teeth and clenching fists as they listen to their wealthy friends discuss being “poor” – despite being able to use their loan as a cash-splash while their parents front the cost of rent. Still, according to successive governments, a student whose idea of poverty is slipping into an interest-free overdraft after spending too much money on takeaway holds financial equivalence to someone that struggles to even pay rent.

For most families already struggling under the burden of ruthless austerity measures, helping a child through university financially is both an inevitability and an impossibility. With maintenance grants now being a thing of the past, it’s insulting that the Tories have the nerve to advertise their barely-there, lukewarm reforms as “revolutionary”.

It’s outrageous that in one of the most advanced economies in the world, most students in the UK will finish university £57,000 in debt. It’s even more outrageous that this £57,000 does not even cover rent, let alone anything else. Students must now use their ever-increasing influence on political discourse to move the conversation from fees to loans.