Achieving egalitarianism in student finance is quite impossible to attain in any measurable sense, but a gut feeling says that the landscape as it now stands is inhospitable.
I write not to deploy the now well-rehearsed diatribe against the iniquity of the cost of higher education – perhaps now a cliché. Instead, this is a sop to mollify the greatest financial institution in the land: ‘The Bank of Mum and Dad’.
First, some unadorned facts; £9000 a year is not the true price tag of university. It fails to reflect the more day-to-day expenditures that come with our education. It ignores the often extortionate cost of accommodation; it does not reflect the weekly trip to the shops; and it can never be representative of the titanic sums of money doled out on drinks and donuts, taxis and tat.
£9000 a year is not the true price tag of university. It fails to reflect day-to-day expenditures
In practice it is only the few students whose parents combined income is below £25,000 per annum that receive full governmental funding for these costs. Wages that breach this hardly lavish sum debar one from claiming anywhere near the full living-cost loan of £5740.
Thus, many students are recipients, to a greater or lesser degree, of money from their parents. Indeed, even those who qualify for the full loan may find themselves requiring a bit of extra cash now and then from their mum and dad – it’s the way of the world.
In practice it is only few students that receive full governmental funding
Yet viscerally it feels wrong to be relying so heavily on parental assistance. Despite the supposed independence and self-reliance that university is meant to herald, and to a greater extent instil, many students are wholly dependent on the charity of their relations.
Perhaps this feeling of discomfort arises because the current system in place for maintenance loans is unfair. Unfair on two counts: the first is that such loans are too narrowly available, and the second is that the arrangement shifts the cost of education to parents.
Viscerally it feels wrong to be relying so heavily on parental assistance
By ‘narrowly available’ I refer to the reality that the bulk of students currently at university will not receive the full £5740 loan, and hence are expected to subsist with some parental aid, or, less commonly, to find employment with which to juggle alongside academic work.
For families living in areas of high living costs such as London, single parents or for families with multiple dependents (children, or perhaps elderly relatives), £25,000 per annum is not an extravagant amount. Yet once this income level is breached the government determines the family wealthy enough to begin subsidising their child’s learning.
For families living in areas of high living costs, single parents or for families with multiple dependents, £25,000 is not extravagant
Indeed, even in the case of both parents working minimum-wage jobs, far from a rarity, their pay is deemed too high to warrant receipt of the full loan. As a result the policy seems to hit working families who are far from rich, and the small cadre of the uber-rich have no need to worry about the cost of living in the first place.
Yet it cannot help but seem strange for parental income to enter the equation at all. The tuition fee loan is in the name of the child. What should parents have to do with the entire student finance system? How can it be right to force families to cough up vast sums for what is ultimately a choice of their child?
It cannot help but seem strange for parental income to enter the equation at all
No structure of living cost finance will be as fair as a simple loan provision to all. It will increase the size of debt repayments post-graduation, but it will remedy the iniquitous status quo whereby working families are slapped with an unwelcome additional burden, and parents are bound into bankrolling the daily costs of the education of their child.