Students protest against loss of financial support
ON WEDNESDAY 5TH November, students from Durham and other North East universities gathered at Millennium Bridge Newcastle, to stage a protest against increased levels of student debt. The protest was part of a national campaign organised by the National Union of Students (NUS). It follows the announcement that the government will cut the amount of financial support available to students starting university in 2009.
Students affected will be those whose parents earn up to £50 020, who will now only be eligible for a partial grant. Whereas the limit for students starting in 2008 was £60 000. The cuts are needed to cover a funding shortage of £200 million. Up to 40 000 students will lose out under the new system, and invariably leave university with more debt.
NUS President Wes Streeting reacted to the changes, saying that whilst it was good students from lower income families would be not be affected, the new measures ‘will inevitably hit new students from middle income families at a time when they are struggling to cope with the impact of the credit crunch.’
The need to change the funding system yet again has arisen due to unexpected numbers of students being eligible for grants. MP John Denham defended the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, arguing that it was impossible to calculate exactly how many students would be eligible for a grant. He said he still believes ‘finance should not present a practical barrier to students wishing to study at university’.
To quantify the new changes, those starting in 2008 with household income of up to £60 000 were eligible for a grant of £52 and a loan of £4 683. Students in the same situation next year will only be eligible for a loan of £3 564. Those whose parents earn less than £25 000 will receive the same support, a grant of £2 906 and a loan of £3 453.
It is therefore those from middle income homes who will be most affected by the recent changes. Andy Welch, DSU President, commented, “there is simply too much debt involved in Higher Education. I don’t think tuition should be free, but a fairer system is necessary.” Sarah Brown, St.Chads’ senior DSU rep, voiced her concern that future students will be put off applying to university: “We need to guarantee equal access to education for future generations”.
The NUS has made a full report on the state of the higher education funding system, which they believe is unable to cope with the higher numbers of university students. Wes Streeting went on to say: “The Government needs to stop tinkering with grants and fees every year, and recognise that the entire higher education funding system is unsustainable. We need a proper review of the system so that parents and students know where they stand”.
Despite widespread dissatisfaction among students across the country, the turnout at the demonstration was disappointingly low. However, according to Campaigns Officer Laurie Drake, the turnout by Durham students was the largest. Rob Feakes, St. John’s senior DSU rep, called on students to get involved and voice their concerns: “Students must write to their MPs because it’s the only language they understand”.