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Special Support Grants: the hidden change that will hurt our students

Wednesday 16-09-2015 - 11:30

This is a guest article by Jay Malpass-Clark, President of Leeds Beckett Students' Union

We’ve now seen and had time to digest the first Conservative budget for 19 years.

Whatever your reaction, it’s clear that there will, yet again, be some serious changes to the way higher education is accessed and funded over the next five years, with changes to grant funding being the headline.

Some of you may know that, here at Leeds Beckett Students’ Union, we managed to bring our university onside in supporting the NUS #CutTheCosts campaign with us.

It’s a great achievement for us and our students, however in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a drop in the ocean on what is needed to bring a serious collective fight back to government in reversing these backwards changes.

In our statement we included a section on a grant that is not getting much coverage. A grant, that if converted could seriously hurt a precious part of our student body, the Special Support Grant.

Like the Maintenance Grant, the Special Support Grant pays out up to £3,387 a year depending on your household’s income, but unlike the maintenance grant it does not affect the amount of maintenance loan you may be entitled to receive.

This grant is put in place for students who often have the most difficult hurdles and obstacles to overcome during their studies, most commonly people with disability needs or care responsibilities. The Special Support Grant is a vital gem of financial assistance for the people who I have the most pride seeing blossom and achieve in Higher Education.

Have these students not had enough barriers thrown in their way?

Why is this budget choosing to give them another significant hurdle in the form of a loan?

Think about it in the context of this loan from a bank. Banks make an assessment of your ability to receive a loan based on the associated risk of lending you that money, making a tidy sum of interest off anybody they choose to accept for one. Lending has its place but not in education.

By grants for hardship being switched to loans, you are essentially showing recipients that society is considering you a risk, that society does not back you to succeed in what is quite clearly your chosen step to better yourself.      

Risk-based lending in student hardship funding is harmful and unwelcome in Higher Education. It has the toxic ability to permeate students’ minds, hurting aspirations.

Grants, but in particular Special Support Grants, need to be here to stay. Here’s how you can help:

  • Mention Special Support Grants when lobbying your MP about the changes to Maintenance Grants
  • Discuss the impact of the Special Support Grant with your Vice-Chancellor
  • Find students who will be affected by these cuts. Their experiences can only add to the #CutTheCosts campaign overall
  • Work with your fellow unions close by for the common good of opposing these changes

We have the power to stop this change for good.

In unity,

Jay Malpass-Clark

Leeds Beckett SU President

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