Education as punishment: the reality of the summer budget’s new maintenance loan

I was a guest on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show today, where I discussed the Conservative government’s decision to convert student maintenance grants into loans.

BBC, Victoria Derbyshire show
BBC Victoria Derbyshire show

BBC Victoria Derbyshire show

Although the introduction of loans may appear like a legitimate action to balance those ever-encylopedic ‘books’ as the grant is a non-repayable sum, this decision is nothing more than a blistering attack of class discrimination by the government.

Back in 2010, I attended university. After my father was made redundant, I was awarded the full loan and grant package, to the tune of £9000. My parents, who are staunchly working class, have made fiscal and personal sacrifices throughout their lives to ensure that my sister and I could attend university.

Those receiving the full loan amount have a combined household income lower than £25,000.

Without this money, I would have not been able to pay for even the lowest rented accommodation at Leeds University.

Under new laws, I am worried for the working-class students of tomorrow. Not only are they saddled with at least £27,000 worth of debt thanks to the tripling of tuition fees in 2010, but now their lifeline, the maintenance grant, joins the other looming figure of £27,000 to saddle the average working-class student with at least £51,000 worth of debt when they leave university.

It’s okay to say that these students will pay that amount back when they are earning above a certain threshold. In reality, is that threshold enough to ensure that a graduate has a decent quality of life? Plenty of students can go through the system in hope that they will be a few of the lucky ones. Regardless of their optimism, they enter the graduate reality beleaguered by debt, hounded by extortionate rental prices and their job security threatened by the ever-looming spectre of unpaid internships.

Their debt demands that they take jobs in big business, the same corporations that seek serve self-interest, the same ones that the current government are orienteering their policy towards in order to battle the ever-more mysterious ‘deficit’.

They are encouraged to turn against those who are vulnerable, and are said to ‘not work hard enough’. These people can range from the most vulnerable Disability Allowance claimants to families who work and still struggle to get by with the help of working tax credits.

By the time the ‘living wage’ rises to £9 in 2020, it will serve as a mere minimum wage once more, unsuitable to accommodate the rising costs of living in the most expensive city in the world, London — for the north, in spite of the government’s ominous ‘northern powerhouse’ speech, is only meant to serve as a cog in the machine for London-centric politics.

Low income families pay for not being born into the right place at the right time. In the midst of this fiscal fury, they are pushed out of an age-old system of political pawnage that defies logic and sediments itself in privilege.

The government have just manipulated the student loans system in the most abhorrent fashion. The new policy of transforming student loans into grants *aims* to keep low-income students out. University education is now framed as a sacrificial burden, with the path towards knowledge, networking, extra curricular activities and developing skills for adult life becomes a path ridden with menacing consequence. All the doubts that working-class students have about really fitting into university come true. The punishment is merely the audacity of wanting to learn.