So you may have already seen news digests announcing that beyond 2012, students will actually receive approximately a net £50 million less in student support than under the current system. Haven’t heard that yet? Well it’s true.
But what about the £300 million National Scholarship Fund investment, as outlined in the White Paper, I hear you ask? Well the small-print states that this money may be spent in any one of four different ways, at the institution’s discretion:
1) On fee waivers
2) Free foundation years (specialised)
3) Assistance with accommodation costs
4) On cash bursaries
And whilst the NSP must have a total value of at least £6,000, the bursaries may only be awarded up to £1,000, and NSP can only be awarded to students from a parental income of under £25k a year.
Now, the more astute student finance hack will notice that this is no more flexible than under the current system – in fact, it will see less students eligible for a government bursary. And this is particularly the case because inequality already runs throughout the breadth of the sector.
For example, an established Russell Group institution may well receive a bursary pot that is proportionate to its student population, but that doesn’t mean that enough of its students qualify against the eligibility criteria for this support to be put to good use.
Meanwhile a “new” university, for example, is likely to have so many students from disadvantaged backgrounds (comparatively) that the NSP only just chips away at the tip of the iceberg of student hardship.
And the sad reality is that some institutions are playing into the hands of the market and lapping up those fee waivers. The bottom line is that the “value” of fee waivers will be dramatically less, due to inflation, by the time they have an impact, i.e. once students have reached that repayment level years and years, even decades, down the line – and actually, the majority of students will never pay back their entire fee loan, rendering the fee waivers they were enticed by at point of entry literally valueless.
So what was a sanctimonious concession for the tripling of tuition fees actually now appears to be a hoax: a sickeningly contrived con that will rob students of the support they need and were promised.
Classic double-speak – saying one thing whilst simultaneously doing the exact bloody opposite. And where does this money land instead? Back in to the hands of the government, of course: a financial cushion to reduce the departmental deficit in this ill-conceived “master” plan.
But what about student loans? The maximum loan rate is rising for students who start in 2012 and beyond, isn’t it? Well yes it is – but it’s only rising because it hasn’t risen for years, in line with inflation and rising living costs.
So it’s no more generous than ever before, really. In fact, with living costs rising at such a rapid rate and with accommodation costs going through the roof (literally), an increase of approximately £500 is relatively pitiful. And that’s just greater borrowing anyway. Whoopee.
Pete Mercer is NUS Vice President Welfare and will be running sessions on 'Pound in Your Pocket' and 'get on the Bus' at Student Activism 2011.