Student maintenance grants are important and valued by many students. Replacing these grants with a loan-based system could significantly increase debt for some of the poorest students.
Indeed, the independent Institute for Fiscal Students estimate that as a result of the government’s changes average student debt from a three-year course will rise from around £40,500 to £53,000 for the poorest 40 per cent of students and that debt will now be highest amongst those from lowest-income families.
I believe we should be doing far more, not less, to widen participation among students from low and middle income backgrounds so I am very concerned at the impact these proposals could have. The July Budget also included plans to increase the current tuition fee cap from £9,000 in some universities and to consult on plans to freeze the £21,000 loan repayment threshold for five years.
The Chancellor made no mention of these plans in his March Budget or during the General Election, so I can appreciate why students and organisations such as the NUS are particularly dismayed at these announcements.
I fought the last General Election on a manifesto that included plans to cut tuition fees to £6,000 and to provide additional grants for students from lower-income backgrounds, which would have benefited half of all students.
I also met representatives from local university student unions recently and listened to their concerns.
I hope the government will now listen to the very serious concerns that have been raised about their plans for student finance. I can assure you that I will continue to press them on this and to urge them to do more to tackle debt among the poorest students.