Bryony Hockin via Facebook

Does anybody believe in accessible education any more?

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In 2012 our fees were raised to £9,000 a year. Now four years later, the Conservative government plan to – without a debate or vote in the House of Commons – scrap the Student Maintenance Grant provided to the students who struggle the most financially in order to receive higher education. Perhaps Durham held its funeral for accessible education a few weeks too early.

Megan Dunn, president of the National Union of Students, said: “If the government truly cares about widening access, it must urgently halt its plans to shut out poorer students from their education.” As a student who personally receives this grant, the Conservatives’ decision to push this change through – and do this with a committee of just 17 – is yet another sign that they do not care about encouraging students from lower income families into an education that can create greater opportunities for their futures.

Yes, George Osbourne has said that this grant will be replaced by a loan of up to £8,200 for those studying outside of London, more than the current grant and loan provide, but why should students whose parents cannot afford to pay for their education be punished with more student debt? The prospect of graduating with upwards of £40,000 of debt is daunting enough, without those who need help the most having more added to the pile.

The government will argue that by creating a larger loan nobody will be shut out of university and that it will in fact create more opportunity for the poorest students. I speak from a personal point of view in saying, as someone whose family could not pay for my accommodation and living costs, that without help from loans and grants, I feel an even greater awareness of money. I believe this is true of many students who cannot fall back on their parents’ income, who don’t have a financial safety net. If I were deciding now whether or not to go to university, I truly believe that I would have to think about weighing up the advantage of a better education, with the financial burden it would carry. I certainly would not be able to pick Durham, whose soaring accommodation fees would price me out of applying.

Most people entering into undergraduate courses are 18 or 19 years old. They should not be penalised three or four years down the line for their financial status when they were barely more than children at the time. A student from a low income family should not go into the same job as one from a high income family and be paying off their debt for five years longer just because they did not win the birth lottery. It is fundamentally unfair. The reason why the Maintenance Grant exists is to level the playing field in a game of pure chance. The government should not be enforcing something which confirms the belief held by many, that if you are born into a poor background you will always have to face extra obstacles in order to succeed.

Photograph:  via Facebook

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