The government’s spending review, announced this Wednesday, has seen a number of key policy implementations and cuts for the student population.
Despite strong protests over the last few months, the spending review confirmed that student maintenance grants for those from disadvantaged backgrounds will be scrapped completely and will be replaced by additional student loans. According to the Chancellor this review could save some £2 billion. However, this highly controversial move could leave students from the poorest backgrounds, as the National Union of Students calculates it, in over £50,000 of debt on leaving university.
The spending review also revealed two other key changes to higher education. Student nurses are to face huge cuts to their education budget. Tuition fee grants are to be axed and replaced with loans. According to Osborne this will help free up some £800 million a year for the treasury.
Parallel to this cut, Osborne has removed the cap on student nurse places. Osborne said: “Over half of all applicants are turned away, and it leaves hospitals relying on agencies and overseas staff.
“We’ll replace direct funding with loans for new students—so we can abolish this self-defeating cap and create up to 10,000 new training places in this Parliament.”
However, the general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Janet Davies has responded saying that the change would leave the UK in a “precarious position” saying the move would make people worse off, put people off becoming nurses for the NHS, and would be a “big loss for our society.”
The news comes as earlier this month CEO of the NHS in England, Simon Stevens, described Osborne’s funding plan for the NHS as not “workable.”
Wednesday’s spending review also announced a shake-up in the student loan repayment schemes. Notably, the review reveals that students who took out loans after 2012 will have to pay more in repayments through a freeze in the £21,000 repayment threshold until April 2021. Times Higher Education reports that originally the government had pledged to up-rate the threshold in line with earnings.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has estimated that this freezing of the threshold for repayment means that the average graduate has to pay back £3,000 more than previously thought. Strikingly, the IFS also estimates that disadvantaged students, who will have taken the additional maintenance loans in place of the scrapped grants, will be on average £6,000 worse off.
Moreover, the Student Opportunity Fund will, according to the spending review, have its budget halved by 2019 – 20.
The former head of the Independent Task Force on student finance information, Martin Lewis, has described this as a “disgraceful move and a breach of trust by the government that betrays a generation of students.”
Many of these shake-ups and saving schemes have gone ahead so that Osborne can roll out new schemes for postgraduates and part-time students.
According to the TLS, students wishing to study for a second degree will be allowed to access a tuition fee loan from 2017 – 18, as long their chosen subject is in science, technology, mathematics or engineering.
Moreover, the current age restriction of under 30 will be lifted for those who wish to take post-graduate loans out after 2016 – 17. Instead loans will be available to all those under the age of 60.
Part-time students will also have access to a new maintenance loans from 2018 – 19. The government says some 150,000 students could benefit from this change by 2020.
The director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Nick Hillman, said: “The Spending Review could have been worse for universities and students than it has turned out to be.
“The improvements to postgraduate loans, the new support for part-time students and the protection of research spending are all welcome and better than many people feared.”
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