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NUS calls out government for equality issues in grant-scrapping plans

Monday 23-11-2015 - 12:47

The National Union of Students (NUS) is today publishing its submission to the government detailing the many equality and access to education issues that were not properly investigated before the plan to scrap maintenance grants was reached. 

NUS has serious concerns regarding the process leading up to this announcement, made as part of George Osbourne’s budget speech in July.

We firmly believe that the government needs to reconsider the process before the comprehensive spending review this week.

Statements made in Parliament after the announcement, which rejected the possibility of equality impacts, led to concern about the process followed.  It was only after NUS issued legal proceedings in September that the government admitted how the decision to scrap maintenance grants was made.

We were given copies of equality impact assessments which we are prevented from sharing for legal reasons. However, we can say that NUS believes there are substantial gaps in the evidence considered by the minister in deciding to scrap grants.

We have serious concerns about the data used to make the decision about maintenance grants. A number of these problems are highlighted in today’s submission.

These include the business secretary Sajid Javid failing to collect sufficient information about black and minority ethnic students in receipt of grants, despite promises made by the government as far back as 2010 to gather this information. The assessment also ignores other changes that are currently proposed for student finance in England.

The government’s assessment focused solely on participation in education. However, there is a long list of other ways the changes could affect students, such as graduate behaviour, retention in courses, ability to do part time work and progression to postgraduate study.

The government has also ignored financial impacts on students. The business secretary has so far failed to respond to our legitimate questions about the process leading to the decision.

Megan Dunn, NUS national president, said:

“It is unacceptable that the government is not being more transparent about the equality impact assessment.

“The scrapping of maintenance grants is an enormous change that would affect thousands of students, but the government has failed to recognise just how widespread the impact would be.

“The most marginalised students would be the worst affected and could even be shut out of the education system completely. This would be a devastating outcome stemming from a poorly researched decision.

“NUS believes the government should be cutting the cost of education, not plunging students further into debt.”

NUS is represented by Salima Budhani of Bindmans LLP who said:

“The draft equality analyses raise serious concerns about the factors that were taken into account by the Secretary of State when he decided to abolish maintenance grants. 

“Only by issuing judicial review proceedings was NUS able to obtain these documents.

“NUS has been prevented from sharing the draft equality analyses, which should of course, be publicly available.  This is particularly so given the Department’s publication scheme which commits to publishing all equality impact assessments online.

“NUS has decided to release its submission today to highlight the range of complex issues involved, even though it can only be released following substantial redaction.”

The Autumn Spending Review will take place on 25 November 2015.

NUS is represented by Salima Budhani of Bindmans LLP and Charlotte Kilroy of Doughty Street Chambers.

NUS’ submission can be read here.

The government’s lawyers have objected to NUS sharing the equality analyses. Bindmans LLP have requested them under the Freedom of Information Act but they have so far not been disclosed. Therefore, direct references to the equality analyses have been redacted in the submission.

BIS’ publication scheme can be read here.

NUS is running a #CutTheCosts campaign to call on the government to reduce the price of education. You can read more about the campaign here.

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