Maintenance loan ‘leaves average student over £200 a month short’

By Sophie Gregory

Correction, Wednesday 4 October: An earlier version of this article included a misquotation of Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience), Owen Adams, which wrongly included a reference to student repayment terms and misleadingly suggested the University was establishing a Residential Pricing Group because of the costs of providing college residences, rather than – as is correct – in response to student feedback.

Though Palatinate’s print edition, published on the same day, still contains the misquotation, this online article has been updated to rectify the error.

The annual Student Money Survey has found the student loan can leave students up to £221 short every month after polling 2,216 students.

The nationwide survey, run by Save the Student, reports that stu­dents need an average of £821 to cover monthly spending, with rent alone averaging £394 nationally. The average Maintenance Loan payment – for students studying away from home and outside Lon­don, with a household income of £35,000 – is, however, £600 per month, leaving a shortfall of £221 every month.

The Maintenance Loan is means-tested and parents are ex­pected to subsidise their children. One-third of students, however, believe that their parents do not give adequate financial support or report feeling guilty for asking for help.

Nonetheless, parents are still turned to in times of extreme hardship, with 83% of students re­lying on their parents for financial support during a crisis.

The Parental Contributions Calculator shows parents earning £35,000 are expected to contrib­ute £1,211 each year for those liv­ing outside of London and away from home. For a household in­come of £50,000, the contribu­tion rises to £3,027.

As Palatinate reported in August, Durham students are ranked among the top universi­ties for parental support, but al­most a third of students nation­wide assert they do not receive enough financial aid from their parents.

When asked how Dur­ham University is supporting those who may need financial aid, Professor Alan Houston, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), said: “We are focused on providing the very best education and empow­ering students to succeed.

“We are proud to be investing £11.5 million in outreach, student success, progression and evalu­ation activities in 2018/19. This includes £5.5 million to help stu­dents from lower income back­grounds meet upfront costs such as accommodation and living ex­penses via bursaries.”

The survey also reveals that 84% of students are worried about having enough money to live on, up 4% from last year.

Rent is reportedly the biggest strain on finances, accounting for almost half of the average £821 a student is said to need per month. Other costs are food at £126 and bills at £54.

Rent and college accommoda­tion fees in Durham have histori­cally been a source of contention.

When asked how the University aims to ensure accommodation re­mains affordable in Durham, Owen Adams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Col­leges and Student Experience), told Palatinate: “The cost of pro­viding our college residences rises year on year and we have to review prices on an annual basis to ensure we can continue to provide a high standard of accommodation and services.

“When reviewing our college residence charges, we consult extensively, including with student representatives. We have listened to our students and understand that they would like to see a range of accommodation packages that go beyond what is currently offered.

“Therefore a Residential Pric­ing Group has been established to consider various options for the setting of differentiated residence charges from the 2019/20 academic year onwards.”

The survey also investigated how thoroughly students un­derstood their student finance contracts. Half of students spo­ken to reported that they did not understand their loan agree­ments or repayment terms.

One second-year student, George Westlake, Collingwood, told Palatinate: “I don’t think there is enough information given to students regarding the ins and outs of interest rates and when they start applying.”

Despite financial uncertainties and the cost of higher education, 49% of students still assert that university is worth the cost.

Durham student Izzy Morrow, also at Collingwood, believes this to be the case, saying: “I think uni­versity is worth the money, for me. I love my course and this is the best place to do it, so it’s defi­nitely worth it.

“I do think Durham does offer financial support to those who might be struggling. Different col­leges have their own individual schemes and the university as a whole offers money to individuals whose family income is below a certain bracket.”

With fees set to rise, however, the 51% who disagree may also increase.

Concerns extended past uni­versity, with over half of students nationwide (51%) reporting that they are not confident that they will be able to find work after graduating.

Save the Student claims that students put forward £6,000 as an ideal amount for their mainte­nance loan. This figure is currently under the maximum maintenance loan available, suggesting that many feel as though they are being penalised by family incomes.

You can see the full results of the survey here.

Photograph: Amy Ding

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