19th January

Labour’s Shadow Skills Minister Gordon Marsden led an opposition day debate on the replacement of student maintenance grants with loans, quoting the Sutton Trust’s Unfair Deal to suggest “it could also put off many low and middle income students and tip the balance against their going to university”.

Liz McInnes, MP for Heywood and Middleton, also quoted the Sutton Trust when she commented that “students from wealthy backgrounds are 10 times more likely to secure a place at university than those from poorer backgrounds”. Rupa Huq, Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton, said that “as well as the NUS, the Sutton Trust has condemned these changes, as they narrow the talent pool of who will be able to participate in higher education in the future”.

Wes Streeting, MP for Ilford and a former Sutton Trust summer school alumnus, said that the proposals will impact on 500,000 students from the poorest backgrounds adding that, because financial support is unevenly distributed among universities, students from the poorest backgrounds will now face a “postcode lottery when it comes to determining how much non-repayable support they receive”.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said the Government is offering increased financial support for living costs for new students in the 2016-17 academic year in the form of loans rather than grants, which is “part of the Government’s plan to ensure that our world-class higher education sector remains sustainably financed and open to more students from all backgrounds”. He said this was to ensure we have a sustainable model for our higher education system, quoting the OECD for saying that England is “one of the very few countries that has figured out a sustainable approach to higher education financing.” Johnson went on to say:

“The Government is committed to social mobility and we are delighted that we now have more students from disadvantaged backgrounds going into higher education than ever before, at a record level of 18.5%. Those from a disadvantaged background are now 36% more likely to go to university than when we took office in 2010. The Prime Minister has committed to doubling the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in our universities from 2009 levels by 2020, and we are going to be doing everything in our power to ensure that happens. It is this sustainable model of funding that has allowed more people to benefit from higher education, which in turn promotes social mobility. Removing the cap on student numbers has allowed more people to benefit from higher education than ever before. We are now in a position in which almost 50% of young people are likely to undertake some form of higher education during their lifetime. This would simply not have been possible in an unsustainably funded higher education system.”

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