End of maintenance grants will put pressure on poorer students

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A third of students say they would have been forced take on more loans as a result of the loss of maintenance grants in England this autumn, according to a survey by service provider Sodexo.

Asked how they would have managed this change, almost a third (31%) of those now in receipt of a student grant said they would have worked longer hours in the holidays, while a similar number (29%) would take on more paid work during term-time, despite concerns from scholars that many students are already working too long and neglecting their studies. 

Many students who now receive a maintenance grant indicate they would have cut back on day-to-day spending: 29% said they would spend less on food and drink and 18% would seek out cheaper accommodation. 

Around one in 12 students who receive a grant stated they would have lived at home to save money. However, many students will simply take on more loans (33% would have done so) – an option made possible by the government when it announced the abolition of the ‘unaffordable’ grant system in the July 2015 Budget.

Quizzed about how the loss of student maintenance grants would have influenced their attitude to university if they were applying now, nearly half (47%) said it would have had some effect.

Although the loss of the maintenance grants will not affect current students, researchers say the study offers an insight into how new undergraduates may manage the changes.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that ministers and universities needed to be wary of the impact of scrapping grants on student behaviour, despite university application rates for this year holding up well.

“I am not a big fan of the complete shift from grants to loans, as when Tony Blair did the same thing in 1998 it had a negative effect on widening participation,” said Mr Hillman.

He said it would be particularly concerning if poorer undergraduates were required to take on significant amounts of paid work in term-time.

“Working a few hours in a bar or on campus has actually been shown to help your academic studies as it makes you more organised, but if students do 20 hours a week this will have a negative impact,” he added.

More information

For those concerned about fair access and widening participation in education, please contact the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON), of which ASDAN is a member.