UK education bodies call for return and extension of student maintenance grants

Leading education bodies and organisations have today (22 November 2019) called for the reinstatement and extension of student maintenance grants.

National Union of Students (NUS), Universities UK, Million Plus, University Alliance and the Association of Colleges, who represent seven million students, over 550 students’ unions, over 100 universities and over 300 colleges between them, have joined forces to call for the next government to reinstate and extend non-repayable maintenance funding for all students studying a higher education qualification.

Maintenance grants were removed by the government in the 2015 Budget. They were replaced with maintenance loans, which means that those students who qualified for the highest levels of maintenance funding graduate with the highest amount of student debt. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, this means that the poorest students will accrue debts of £57,000 before graduation.

Governments in other parts of the UK have maintained or increased their grant funding, leaving English students out of step with their peers in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and graduating with the highest overall debts.

The group has called for:

The reinstatement of non-repayable maintenance grant funding for students studying higher education courses in England
The extension of this funding to cover all level 4, 5 and 6 qualifications, both technical and non-technical
The funding package to increase annually with inflation and take into account the rises in cost of living since the grant was scrapped.

Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS National President, said: “Restoring and extending maintenance funding is fundamentally a question of justice. Scrapping grants was an ideological move from a Conservative government desperate to shrink access to education and penalise the poorest for their ambition.

“I am proud to stand with leaders across the education sector to be clear that the next government must reintroduce and extend maintenance grant funding for students. Those of us who spend our time advocating for the rights and improvement of students and higher education see the effects that their removal has had on students’ lives, and it is time for the next government to take swift action.”

Claire Sosienski Smith, Vice President (Higher Education) NUS said: “We are calling on the next government to ensure that student maintenance funding is right at the top of the agenda. Spiralling rents and living costs mean that student poverty is becoming an acute problem, and the only just way to solve it is through grant funding. Our education should liberate us, but when governments penalise the poorest students with additional debt due to nothing more than their backgrounds, we are only reinforcing inequality.”

Juliana Mohamad Noor, NUS Vice President (Further Education) said: “It is extremely important that we not only ask to reinstate maintenance funding, but that it is extended to everyone studying levels 4, 5 and 6 qualifications. This opens the door to thousands of further education students studying higher technical education to be funded and supported in their education.”

Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said: “Anyone with the potential to benefit from the transformative experience of going to university deserves the opportunity to do so, whatever their circumstance. Universities UK has long campaigned for the reintroduction of targeted maintenance grants, recognising that concerns about living costs are a greater deterrent than fees for the majority of students. Putting more cash in their pockets would make a university education more affordable for many and would also help to prevent a situation where some students are having to work long hours alongside their studies.”

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Bringing back maintenance grants would make a substantial difference to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Since the scrapping of grants and Education Maintenance Allowance the most vulnerable and students from low-income families have faced higher barriers to success in their education. That has to change if we want a fair and just society.

“We know finance is one of the key factors in retention, ensuring everyone has a fair chance to get on and better their lives. That’s why maintenance grants must be central to the next government’s vision for higher education in colleges and universities.”

Professor Debra Humphris, Chair of University Alliance and Vice-Chancellor of University of Brighton said: “Higher education can be a transformational experience, but the current system doesn’t offer all students the means to succeed, and even penalises those from the poorest backgrounds.

“The next government must urgently reinstate and extend maintenance support, to ensure equal access for all to the life-changing opportunities higher education affords”

Bill Rammell, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire and Chair of Million Plus, said: “It is unfair that we currently have a funding system where the students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds make the highest repayments and pay for longer compared to their more affluent counterparts. Higher-level study is a real force for social mobility, but without improved maintenance support we risk losing ground in this effort.

“Mature students who need or choose to study flexibly also need proper maintenance support. Experience recently in Wales shows that grants for this important group of students has helped boost the take up of flexible study for adults enormously.”

Gordon McKenzie, CEO GuildHE said “Higher education transforms people’s lives and should be accessible to all that are able to benefit from it. We therefore believe that the Government should reinstate and extend non-repayable maintenance grants for students, so that all who want to can succeed in higher education.”