Students from low-income homes will no longer be able to rely on maintenance grants to support their living costs during university; a move which Sir Peter Lampl believes will significantly widen the access gap.
Until this year, students from disadvantaged backgrounds were entitled to grants from the government to help them with the costs associated with going to university. However, maintenance support is now only available through an additional loan, further increasing their debt on graduation.
“The abolition of maintenance grants means it is the poorest graduates who are getting the worst deal, with debts of over £50,000 on graduation. It is outrageous that the government has got rid of maintenance grants. It will make it harder to increase the numbers of disadvantaged students at the most selective universities and it will lumber them with massive debts,” said Sir Peter Lampl.
“With the access gap at these universities still unacceptably wide, the government should be doing all it can to increase participation, not reduce it.”
The government’s move comes at a time when there is increasing pressure on universities to widen participation rates for those from the poorest backgrounds. But with tuition fees likely to increase above £9,000, Sir Peter Lampl is concerned that many young people will be put off going to university.
His worries are shared by Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University College Union (UCU), who told the Guardian: “Cost does matter and there is a very real danger that raising tuition fees combined with the ending of maintenance grants will damage progress made by widening participation initiatives.”
However Professor Les Ebdon, director of the Office for Fair Access, said he was unsure how shifting maintenance grants to loans would affect aspiration to study for under privileged students:
“We do know that previous major changes to state support for students, such as the introduction of fee loans, have not had the negative impact on participation that was predicted by many people at the time and there are now record numbers of disadvantaged students entering higher education.”
Sir Peter Lampl’s charity the Sutton Trust compared levels of debt at graduation in eight Anglophone countries. They found that, for the typical student, average debts are the highest in England: http://www.suttontrust.com/researcharchive/degrees-of-debt/