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To protect education we must ensure students can thrive

Tuesday 08-12-2015 - 10:15

Today, representatives from students’ unions across the UK are converging on Parliament to lobby MPs over the government’s plan to scrap maintenance grants for the poorest students. Politicians must listen.

For the past few months, students’ unions have been organising and running activities on campuses under our #CutTheCosts campaign, and now it is imperative that students’ voices are heard.

The government’s plans to scrap maintenance grants, end bursary support for medical students and to push on with the ending of Disabled Students’ Allowance threatens to change the face of education – and the faces in education for the future.

This is not simply about tuition fees. There is inescapable widespread concern about students, across the four nations of the UK, who are struggling with the rising costs of study and living. Students in colleges and universities now also face escalating debts which threaten to see the poorest graduates leaving university with debts of £53,000. This is the real story of education today: mortgage levels of debts being piled onto the shoulders of the poorest students. Debts for study, borrowing to buy books, putting transport costs onto credit cards, taking out payday loans to cover rising rents.

Replacing grants with loans doesn’t put more money back in students’ pockets in the long term, it simply saddles many with crippling debt. We know that it will be a deterrent for the part-time students, student carers and student parents who don’t know whether they can afford to keep the electricity on from one day to the next. These are students working hard to pursue their education for a better future for themselves and their families. We also are seeing a rising number working two or three jobs alongside their studies so they aren’t forced to drop out.

This is the crisis of a generation, and politicians must be confronted with this reality that is damaging education and our futures. This is a crisis that cannot continue. We need MPs to step up and help us cut the debilitating costs that students face to ensure we end the debt crisis is leaving the poorest students in dire straits, and threatens to discourage many more from ever applying for university.

Politicians must understand the scale of this crisis facing students everywhere. We want them to know the scrapping of maintenance grants will make it worse. We want them to write to Jo Johnson, the universities minister, to raise these concerns and commit to opposing the regulations that will scrap maintenance grants forever.

We need to continue our lobbying to show this government that what students' unions do is about improving access to education, transforming education itself and changing peoples' lives. Whilst the they consult on the future of higher education, including asking questions about the role of students’ unions, this is about telling the government our interest is to protect education and ensuring students, and our economy, can thrive.

George Osborne's long-term economic plan seems to be built on the idea that piling up personal debt is somehow a solution to public debt. He would be wise to learn the lessons of the financial crisis in 2008, the former can often lead to the latter. Decisions to scrap maintenance grants, end bursaries for our future doctors and pile debts onto the poorest students is nothing more than mortgaging the future of our country. Today in Parliament we will be kindly reminding every MP that we are very good at ensuring people don’t forget the decisions that politicians make; just ask Nick Clegg.

Our job today is to convince as many politicians as we can that rising costs of study and living – as well as the importance of protecting students’ unions – is an issue they simply cannot ignore.

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