The proposal by MPs that student grants in England should be £5,000 not £1,000 - paid for by higher interest on student loans - has revived the debate about student funding among BBC News Online users.
Here is a selection of the comments received:
If students really were poor, then how come cheap T-shirts, jeans and shoes aren't trendy? In my day (early 90s) we all wore old, cheap clothes with holes in. We didn't need mobile phones, and certainly didn't need cars or our own computer. Today's students want the moon on a stick, they want the lifestyle of their middle class wage-earner parents but don't want to pay for it. When students can't afford designer clothes, mobiles, laptops and beer, then they can start complaining about poverty. They talk about going on the dole, well why don't they then? It's because they know that their student life is better than that, and leads to far greater opportunities than their non-student peers whose taxes will pay for the students education, despite not getting the chances to earn more.
It angers me that education is primarily priced in terms of potential 'economic benefit'. Those creating these policies did not have to begin their adult life (post higher education) £12,000 in debt. Debt is a serious social, psychological and economic problem in the UK and enforcing this problem status upon every young person starting out in life is very worrying.
Bethan Leah, UK
For once I feel irritated enough to comment. I spent 4 years at uni during the introduction of student loans and the abolition of the grant. The paltry sum offered was not enough to live then at a meagre £3k per annum. With rising rent, the increasing expense of tuition and the overall cost of living, the government has effectively made decent higher education a luxury available only to the rich. I've been in a well paid-job for approaching 5 years and I'm still encountering difficulties due to debts incurred whilst studying. Student Loans mean you start your new career with a huge millstone of debt and your adult life at a disadvantage because of your intelligence. Education should be the right of every individual, regardless of background, race, sex or creed.
Jon, Great Britain
Both my sister and I are at university at the same time, my parents have been assessed not to receive any form of financial help at all, which means they have to pay over two thousand pounds in tuition fees, and we have to live off £3000 for the year. Bearing in mind that the usual accommodation rent for the year is £2500, we *have* to go to our parents for help, help that my parents cannot afford to give after re-mortgaging the house for our tuition fees!! The families that suffer the most from the current system are the middle income families, the poorer families do not have to pay much anyway. The most depressing thing about this is that when I graduate, I hope to get a decent wage, and I will then become one of those middle income families. I may as well drop out, get on the dole, and have my life handed to me on a plate every week.
"We think the £5,000 will be a real incentive to bring students in and keep them there," committee chairman Barry Sheerman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. That's strange - I thought the incentive to go to university was the chance to improve your education and thereby improve your chances of getting a decent job. Why do we need to incentivise students other then to meet this government's arbitrary target of 50% of school leavers going to university?
I have no parental contribution and I get the basic loan of £3000, which I'm expected to feed, clothe and house myself with. On top of this I pay tuition fees (£1000), and yes, I also like to have a life as well. The government hasn't got a clue, the figures never add up and students will always have to rely on banks and credit cards to subsidise their degrees at very expensive rates. I'm studying medicine and i predict that my debt will be £15,000-£20,000 by the end of my five years. I'm very frustrated and disillusioned.
Sharon , UK
This may help people from the most deprived backgrounds, but will be hardest on those who are just above the government's definition of 'poor'. My parents are certainly not rich, but have worked very hard to provide for my brother and I. I went to uni in the last days of grants, but my brother hit the beginning of tuition fees and my parents found it difficult to meet the bill. If these proposals had been in place back then, neither of us would have been able to go. Is it really right that someone whose parents are on income support can go to university, but not someone whose parents hold down demanding, but poorly-paid, jobs?
It is all well and good making provisions for the "poor" to attend university, provisions such as grants etc, but what about the people that don't qualify as "poor". My family are too wealthy for any grant system but not wealthy enough to send two kids to university without substantial worries. Raising the cost of university even higher would price it out of our range, stopping us going. Additionally, allowing up to £4000 interest free loan would be helpful but it still needs to be paid back and if added to the cost of tuition fees a graduate would have a massive debt with little income because it is all going on repayments. There must be a better way!
Sian Price, UK
A grant of £1000 simply isn't enough, especially for universities based in the more expensive towns/cities. On the other hand, as a tax-payer I am shocked by idea of a £5000 grant. When I was at university I got by comfortably on £1600 a year from my parents, if I money was running short, I'd just not go out, and instead do some work. £5000 a year is just too much for any student.
This is all well and good, and it's about time the governement sorted out higher education funding. It's just a shame they've left some of us poor souls with £15,000 worth of debt before they realised! I wonder if they'd be willing to pay back any of our loans for us? Especially as we won't be receiving a pension. Why do we pay national insurance and tax again.... ?
Vicki Hibbert, France
As usual, this hits the middle income families hardest. Parents who earn just enough that their kids aren't eligible for grants, and who already pay vast amounts of tax towards educating the poorest students, will still have to pay out the maximum in fees and maintenance.
And if their kids want to help out their parents by taking out a student loan, they will be financially hobbled for the first 5 years of their working lives by loan repayments at inflated rates of interest. How is anyone supposed to live in the South on a salary of £15K anyway, let alone with these repayments to worry about!
The answer is easy. Grants should be allocated on academic ability. Why should kids with bad a-level results from any background be given more money? Increase grants and decrease the amount of students.
Neil Anderson, Wales
Means-tested £1,000 grants from 2004
Upfront tuition fees end 2006
Fees then rise to £3,000 a year
First £1,100 subsidised for poor
Payable from graduate salary of £15,000+
Zero-rated student loan up to £4,000 a year
New access regulator
Research funding for the elite
50% participation through foundation degrees
I think that there would be no proposals for England if our lopsided constitution had not allowed Scotland to make the running by abolishing fees. Scotland benefits from over-resourcing due to the Barnet formula which the (Scottish-based) Labour Government is unwilling to challenge. This means that Scotland could go ahead with measures that would not benefit the UK as a whole. Now the cat is out of the bag in England. The loser will be education (which will continue to be underfunded): the culprit is an illegitimate constitution.
David Ayers, England
£5,000 means-tested grants
Fees of probably £5,000 a year
Whole amount subsidised for poor
Bigger loans but with real rate of interest
No separate access regulator
"University" title needs thorough debate
Broad research base
Drop foundation degrees participation link
I feel that fees should be paid for all students and maintenance grants should be reinstated. The loan system is dire but what is proposed is worse. On the course I am doing (and also on the course I did prior to starting at university) many of the students are very demoralised and intend to move abroad when qualified. It seems to be yet another manifestation of rip-off Britain.
Those who benefit from tertiary education should be those who bear the financial burden - the treasury and the student. Why should one adult graduate emerge from university with greater debts than another because his parents earn more? I am unaware of many examples of a parent gaining financial benefit from their child's education. Graduates leave with the same qualifications and therefore the same chance of repaying debt. Surely this is a secondary form of income tax on the parents? Yes, of course those with wealthy parents will always have a better chance of help in repaying any loan, but surely we have a graded income tax system to compensate for this. If that isn't deemed fair means of balancing wealth then change it instead.
Iain Wilson, UK
It's fantastic, but I think foreigners from Third World countries who come to do higher degrees, should be considered for funding. At the moment it's very difficult to secure financial aid for study in England. It's offered mainly through governments and the chances of getting it to the disadvantaged communities is next to nil. Too much corruption. It should be given to individuals, more so women.
Sisa Nsele, Spain
My husband and I work hard and have just completed forms for our son to go to university. We knew we were over the limit to have to pay the fees - but cannot accept that the forms do not even ask what mortgage or rent you have to pay. Our mortgage bears no comparison to someone on a lower income - but I do feel that as a general rule to ask the question of how much you pay to keep a roof over your head is fair, whether you are considered rich or poor, and then the income left after that should be taken into account for calculating student fees etc.
Margaret Thorne, England
Why should students have to pay for their education anyway ? As the 'educated' sector of the public they will hopefully find employment amongst the top earners of society, and thus be automatically rewarded with the opportunity to pay higher rates of tax than others anyway. How much Student Loan did Tony Blair and these select committee members have to take out ?
Roger K. Green, England
The government's claims about broadening access ignore a very important lesson from the past. Universities were most accessible 30 years ago when there were no fees and there was substantial support for the living costs of poorer students. Without that support I would not have been able to go to university. Fewer people went to University, agreed, though many went to poly or college; access was based on merit, not income, and it might be argued that those who had the chance made more of it. The fact that relatively few people from poor backgrounds went to university might just have had something to do with poor schooling and the general anti-elitist and disparaging attitude of many teachers at that time.
Do any of the people on either side of this debate actually come from poorer or non-typical backgrounds? It certainly doesn't look like it. 25 years ago I was unable to accept a university place because of my financial circumstances. The situation has deteriorated substantially since then - not improved. I eventually gained my degrees through part-time study and became a University lecturer. It borders on criminal that today's teenagers face the same obstacles. Representatives of families with an annual income of less than £10k need to be on these ivory towers committees to inject a much-needed dose of realism.
ali haynes, UK
I've heard their arguments that the introduction of fees made more places available in higher education but as a died in the wool Labour supporter this argument doesn't wash. If the same logic were to be applied in the use of the health service i.e. pay a fee of £1000 toward the cost of your operation to make more operations available I doubt that the Labour party would be in second place after the next general election which is where it looks to me they will be. The Labour party that I joined held dearly the principle that education should be free and no amount of fiddling with the figures will restore this principle.
Jim Carty, England
Most students who drop out of university, or choose not to go because of expense will start claiming welfare. Job Seekers Allowance alone comes to £2220.40 a year and you can easily expect to get £1500-£2000 in housing benefit. By refusing students grants to match these figures the government is rewarding failure with money and punishing ambition with debt, all the while probably increasing the cost to the country.
As a new lecturer at a university we desperately need more money to be able to teach those students. However we don't get paid very much and had to be a student for 9 years or so. How many people would be willing to start on £18k with 9 years' worth of debt? Half my take-home pay goes on rent - then I have loan repayments. I need a car to get to the university - it's 15 years old. Without more money in universities and a decent pay rise for staff - there will be NO lecturers and therefore NO further education available at all!
When I was a student (in the '80s) my parents were deemed rich enough to support me so I was awarded a minimum grant. The assessment was based on my father's self-employed income from 2 years earlier and bore little relation to actual cash. Although he gave what he could, I had to work 2 or 3 days a week, sometimes right through the night, plus all holidays to ensure I supported myself. In each year's final term I was given a grant of £37 while my "poor" friends cashed in 15x this and saw themselves fine with smart haircuts, expensive boots and never needed to work. It was and is an invidious system. Bitter? You bet.
All students should get a grant for the daily living expenses such as food and accommodation. Course fees should be paid for by a loan which you repay when you graduate and get a well paid job. It is wrong that graduates are expected to pay back money used for food many years earlier, food and accommodation are not luxuries.
As a student I feel the situation is simple. If people do not want to go university then that is their option. The government should not be saying that they want to get a certain percentage of students into university. Their aim should be to get all who want to go to university into university. It should not be a game of "we want to hit a certain target". University fees should be paid by the government and grants should be available TO ALL, NOT based on parents income. Students are over 18 and are adults and should be treated as such.
Chris Britton, UK
If you can't afford to have children, i.e. fund their education, development etc, then don't have children. Why should the taxpayer foot the bill for your children? Having children is not a human right. There should be no university grants and no child benefit. The world and especially the UK is already overpopulated.
Jay Standard, Canada/UK
The white paper either had a hidden agenda of elitist HE or was very ill-thought through. The notion that concentrating research funding on elite units was consistent with widening participation in HE (or would foster improved research) was at best naive and at worst cynical. The recognition from the committee that weak performance in state school education is the central barrier to university is welcome. As an admissions tutor I also feel that the government needs to provide the necessary tools to allow us to take widening participation criteria into account in an open and fair way. Retention of a broad research base is important to widening participation to prevent education "ghettos". In many cases teaching-only institutions will turn out good, well-rounded graduates, but even then they will be stigmatized by receiving a qualification from a low esteem organization.
Dr Thom Baguley, UK
Most students have to get a job in order to help pay the bills so by charging more in 2006 students are going to have more debt than now. At the end of my course I will have debts of up to £12000 which is stupid. I have no idea how I'm going to be able to pay that off. It is going to be a thorn in my bank balance for a number of years.
This is all well and good but what of the thousands who are now having to pay the £k's back the to the student loan company? What about some help for us!
G Cadman, uk
I think students should get substantial grants and free places at university but only if they prove that they are there to study hard, to take a worthwhile course and that their future labour is to benefit our country as well as themselves.
r. steward, uk
Tuition fees should be abolished. Grants should be mandatory to all but repayable through the tax system in the first few years of employment. A set percentage of one's salary should be deducted each month until the loan/grant is repaid. Setting the repayment as a percentage means that the ability to repay should be within everyone's means.
Charging higher rates of interest on loans will only force graduates into greater debt than they already have. Those on the lowest incomes after graduation will end up with the most debt as it takes them longer to repay and women who take time off work to have children would be particularly badly hit.
Will Howells, UK
Why doesn't the government introduce a scholarship programme whereby students (be that all or just the poorer ones) get a grant based on their grades? That way the government is only funding those who really want to be there and, more importantly, those who deserve to be there, as opposed to those who go for the social life and then drop out just before final exams in the first year! Surely this would then channel money to the right kind of students and not fund those who just want to party and nothing else.
Nick Russell, England
Getting rid of up-front fees is a good idea, but when it comes to paying them later the government must be realistic about the amount a graduate can afford. High rent costs (you're lucky if you can find a house in some areas for <£100k which is the largest mortgage a new graduate can get), the cost of running a car, council tax etc leave very little money to live on never mind start paying fees. Also how do you define 'poorer families', often because parents can afford to help out their offspring during university it doesn't mean they will - this is not the students' fault! Who expected, 5 years ago that parents would still have to support their children past 18!
I am one of triplets. I graduated just before grants were abolished and I feel fortunate that I did so. If we were going now, we might be having to decide who didn't get to go so they could work to support the other two - assuming any of us could afford to go at all.
It us utterly wrong that anyone should be denied education on grounds of cost, and utterly short-sighted as well. Graduates earn more, so pay more tax, and they are able to use their skills to increase the prosperity and well being of this country and the rest of the world. How many MPs received a grant? Let them live like they expect students to and see if they can do it AND study full time.
Stephanie Clarke, England
The only way to afford higher education is to get rid of the farcical idea that 50% of young people should go to university, the majority reading noddy degrees in ridiculous subjects such as underwater basket weaving.
Furthermore, as a state educated student who got the top first in Oxford, I firmly believe that the only way to ensure fair access for poorer students is to ensure that the education for more intelligent state pupils is both streamed and brought up to the standard offered by the public school system. The ridiculous notion that intelligent pupils can be effectively taught in the same class as those with less ability needs to be eradicated from our education system.
Higher education should be free - that is absolutely no tuition fees - society benefits from graduates, so society should pay. The issue of how to fund a students living expenses should be the issue. Here, I do believe that students/parents should contribute - although I do believe that students should be entitled to 'benefits' such as those given to the unemployed, etc. In addition, we need to ditch the 'level playing field' mentality - it isn't. 'Poor' people are not (and have never been) excluded from university due to finances - it has been due to lack of qualifications - often due to the culture of their upbringing. It is this that needs addressing.
The grant should be somewhere between the proposed £1000 and the £5000 suggested by MPs. If tuition fees were scrapped altogether just consider how much money would be saved through reduced administration charges. I don't believe the government realises the extent that students rely on their credit card to fund their activities or the paid labour they undertake.
David Coupland, United Kingdom
What really depresses me (and it does really get me depressed and I'm sure it does the same to many others) - is that my student loan was not interest free.
I welcome the idea that future students may have interest free loans. However, I came out of university two years ago with a debt of over £10,000 - which is now increasing by about £30 a month. Its a shame the government can't at least freeze the interest for those of us unfortunate enough to have gone to university just after the old grant system was abolished. I can see no end to my spiralling debt, even though I've been working full-time since a couple of days after graduation! It's depressing - I could have saved myself this problem by not bothering to improve myself and gone on the dole forever instead! At least that doesn't have to be repaid!!
It has always been a travesty that students have had to live in abject squalor for their time at university. If they raise the grant levels, does this mean that those of us with loans will have them paid off as well?
A larger loan is well overdue - my entire loan vanished on rent at the begining of term, and I was left to the generosity of my parents and massive loans from the bank. It still doesn't fix the bottom line though: there are too many students, and now degrees are worthless.
Paul Weaver, UK
Research funding should not be restricted to the 'elite' universities. Top quality research can be done at any university. What counts in a university is not the quality of the university as a whole, but the quality of the department and its staff. New research ideas can come from any university department, and all departments must be allowed to compete for research funding.
John R. Owen, UK
There is a basic problem with too many people going to university. Lets face it, we don't need that many graduates. When a plumber can earn four times the money that a graduate does, something is out of balance. There also seem to be a great many useless degrees being flogged by educational establishments.
As a company we look for drive, enthusiasm, experience and job skills. We don't want graduates, we want people who have a bit of life under their shoes, not three years of drinking it up in the union bar!
Richard Hough, UK
Re-introducing and raising the maintenance grant to £5,000 wopuld be a good thing, which would free up the money paid throught the hardship fund. Also I think most students would be ok with paying back loans at a realistic rate of interest, when graduated, so as not to struggle when studying. I believe this could substantially improve grades attained, due to lifting some of the factors blighting many poorer students, in having to work part-time to survive, thus not putting as much is really needed to complete a course to the best of their abilities. This indirectly would improve the quality of our degrees [and] benefit the universities. Unfortunately I believe governments only think short term , so would never contemplate this scheme.
Grants are a good idea, higher interest on loans? That's called paying for education, something I thought we didn't want.
What hope is there of a budding research scientist from an ordinary background taking on £15,000 of fees and the loans necessary to get through university to earn just enough to pay off his debts? It's a massive deterrent.
The one thing missing from these proposals is the suggestion that, if this country cannot afford proper academic university tuition for 50% of school-leavers, we should perhaps be reducing the number going to university? Secretaries do not need media studies degrees and would be better off and more employable getting good secretarial qualifications at 18. We should have fewer university places not more. Then the country could afford both free tuition and a grant for all those who would benefit from a university education whether they could otherwise afford to go or not.
As someone who has paid their own way through higher education, I don't think it is unreasonable for students to contribute through deferred payment of interest-free student loans once they have started earning. Such loans should not be tightly capped, but allowed to cover the full cost of tuition and living expenses, avoiding the need for a complex system of means-tested grants which tend to reinforce class divisions. More should be done to encourage progressive forms of higher education (e.g. the Open University) that allow students to 'earn while they learn' and thus avoid long-term debts altogether.
David Watterson, United Kingdom
FE sector is still the Cinderella of Education. We hear a lot about Primary, Secondary and Higher education, but FE is often forgotten, and certainly desperately under funded. Fair treatment for all, please!
Tim Johns, UK
It still all sounds scary. But a bigger student loan at the proposed new rate (so long as it was never going to end up at 16% or whatever) would be preferable to students having to resort to credit cards or commercial loans at the often scandalous rates of interest payable. In a couple of "student generations" time, no-one will think anything of paying back student loans, it is the unfortunate students and families who have not had 10 or 15 years to save up for it who are having the heartache now
Deborah Parr, England
We are now shredding our reputation as having the best education in the world. If the government continually deny students money then they will find that no one will go into further education and hence we will have no British people qualified to do any jobs.
Douglas, United Kingdom
Current levels of student debt are massive (mine is around £10,000), these proposals look to double that figure! The job market here isn't what it was and house prices are through the roof, graduate salaries aren't THAT good!! How do they expect to get more people into university when students are going to be saddled with this much debt. I don't know what the parents of the ministers paid for their education, but they were robbed.
Neil Barrett, uk
I think that Tony Blair, Ministers and MP's all benefited from state funded university education and living grants, but now they seek to burden young people with massive debts before they even start work. They have pushed more and more people into getting meaningless degrees in subjects which they will never use again, and which prove nothing to prospective employers at massive cost to the country. If the country is really getting significant added value from more people going to university, then the government should pay for it. If not, then funding should be targeted at those subjects will result in a tangible benefit to society, leaving those who get degrees in computer games et al to seek sponsorship from business or to pay out of their own pockets.
Tom Mason, UK
Clearly borrowing money affordably from the government rather than from credit card companies would be a marvellous facility. I also believe that encouraging the individual to take responsibility for funding their own education is sensible. However, why aren't the millions 'saved' by these measures being passed on to the taxpayer as tax cuts?
Jezz Carey, UK
The only way the current and proposed systems are 'two tier' is that students from middle class families are discriminated against. Students are adults, not dependents, and should be treated in that way. Their parents' income should be irrelevant. Under the current system, I have massive debts because my parents are above a certain income threshold - completely ignoring the fact that they live in one of the most expensive parts of the country and therefore have little money to spare. Meanwhile, poorer students get support from everywhere. The only way to make the system fair is for all students to be treated the same regardless of their family circumstances. Under current conditions, 'poorer' students get more than enough support - the system must become equal for all.
I think that the government is taking the right approach, you get nothing for nothing in this world and we should all contribute one way or another. My only criticism is the mature students who wish to go to university are at a disadvantage. I myself would love to study at university as my husband is unlikely to return to work as he has severe medical problems. I could study and earn a decent living wage to support my family and come off benefits if I could get the education I needed but for me to do that any grants or loans I get are taken off our benefits. We would have to live on grants and benefit so what is the point, poorer people cost the state tenfold so give us a break and let us get the knowledge to earn more and cost the state less.
University education used to offer a massive advantage to people in the jobs market. This is no longer the case as the product has been devalued at the same time as the cost has gone up. It is still an advantage, but it's an expensive one. The only reasons to go into higher education are either for fun or because you're actually interested in the subject you are studying. Unfortunately for the latter group this is becoming an expensive luxury as successive governments push more and more people through an increasingly poor system. And yes I do mean poor in both senses.
As a father of two and far from wealthy I fear for my children's future. I cannot believe a Labour Government are prepared to condemn our children to a life of debt. It's hard for a father to say, but I hope they qualify well, and clear off to a country where they are better rewarded, where the contribution they can make to society is better appreciated. We will have a nation of over qualified paupers if this madness continues for long.
Education should be available to all UK citizens, the cost of which should be recovered from the student and government. Student loans should be increased to cover this and to cover living costs while at university.
Dave Drew, United Kingdom