Tuesday 29-09-2015 - 15:12
This is a guest article by Tammy Naidoo, President of the University of Kent Students' Union
It was quite difficult to get motivation to campaign on this issue, given that Kent is full of a number of loyal Conservative MPs. It would have been easier not to bother when we weren’t sure we could make a difference, but we also knew it was too important an issue for students at Kent not to do anything.
When George Osbourne made the announcement in the summer, we wrote to Julian Brazier, Kelly Tolhurst and Rehman Chishti (the MP’s in constituencies where University of Kent students live) to express our concerns and meet with them as a matter of urgency.
It was ironic that the national lobby took place the day before our new students arrived on campus. Whilst we were all rushing about getting marquees set up, events finalised and volunteers trained we were also trying to convince our representatives to keep the grant that many students arriving tomorrow couldn’t live without; we didn’t want those to be the last.
I met with Julian on Wednesday 16 September alongside Sophie Dudley, Canterbury Christ Church SU President (Activities). Julian agreed to write to Joe Johnson (Minister for Universities) to share our concerns but declared he is in agreement with the proposed removal of grants and would not support the request to oppose it.
Julian’s reasons for removing the grant for low income students were that the government was making cuts across the board and it was necessary to make savings. This is despite the fact that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that the long term savings to the government will not be as substantial as predicted. In the short term, government borrowing will fall by around £2 billion per year, but this is only because the increased spending on loans will not count towards borrowing. Therefore, in the long term, as the state starts lending more money out to students (£2.3 billion for each cohort and only around a quarter of these additional loans will be repaid), the contribution the government makes to HE will only fall by 3%.
Julian also believed that the new loan scheme will provide more students with access to university, and that students should apply for a reduced loan and take up extra work.
I then met with Kelly on Friday 18 September alongside Harry Hodges, Greenwich SU President. Kelly also agreed to write to Joe Johnson to voice the concerns of the students’ unions but, like her Canterbury counterpart, was also supportive of the decision to cut grants.
Kelly didn’t share our view that education is good for all in society, as she said she didn’t think people who weren’t at university should pay for those who are, through the tax system. She also didn’t believe the proposed grant cut was a priority as there were more pressing issues in her constituency. Kelly did however cite that she wasn’t aware of any equality impact reviews of the new system and that she would look into this.
Although their responses were unsurprising, I’m glad we took action, because it was an important piece of groundwork in this campaign. We engaged over 1,000 students in our online petition, gained local press coverage and pressured loyalist MPs to rethink the line given to them.
We wrote to Rehman on 7 September and are yet to have any response.
So what are the next steps for us? We intend to hold our MPs to account on their arguments, and continue to confront them with the issue. For a union like ours, it’s right that NUS is taking the next steps through a judicial review and we’ll be supporting that however we can.
How is your students’ union supporting the #CutTheCosts campaign to save maintenance grants? We’d love to promote your work to the membership on NUS Connect - simply get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what you’re doing on campus!