Page last updated at 10:33 GMT, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Many more affected by grants cuts

By Gary Eason
BBC News website education editor

students in lecture
More students have qualified for grants this year

Far more students than had been thought are likely to be affected by cuts in university grants in England from next year, it has emerged.

The government had spoken only in terms of about 10% of students, some 35-40,000, losing grants altogether.

But statistics suggest that partial means-tested grants will be cut for at least 90,000 others from next year, as household income thresholds change.

The Conservatives say the news is "a hammer blow" to hard-pressed families.

England's Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Dius) had to announce a month ago that it had miscalculated how many students would qualify for maintenance grants.

Last year it had announced improvements to the student support package.

But Universities Secretary John Denham had to admit that whereas his department had expected only a third of students to qualify for the full grant, in fact 40% had done so.

Dius does however still stand by its TV-advertised promise that two thirds of students will get a grant of some sort.

Changes

The error means the upper limit for receiving grants is being reduced from 2009-10 from a family income of 60,000 to 50,020.

Some 35-40,000 prospective students would lose grants of up to 524 a year, the department said.

But the Conservative Party has accused ministers of leading people to believe this is the total extent of the impact.

In fact all the income band thresholds are changing. So everyone who qualifies for a partial grant will get less than they would have done.

A student with a family income of 40,000 will get an annual grant of 711 rather than 1,023, for example, while on 30,000 it falls from 2,053 to 1,906.

Drift

Dius described the students who would lose all support as being about 10% of the total student intake.

Latest figures from the Student Loans Company, published last week, show that those on partial grants this year comprised 29% of the total.

A source at Dius said those were provisional figures - and there is expected to be "a significant rise" in the total proportion in receipt of partial grants once final figures are known.

Statisticians at the loan company explain that people can claim support right up to the end of the academic year, and there is usually a drift from those not claiming anything to those claiming a partial grant.

If, say, a third of the final claimants achieved a partial grant then it might be expected that another 90,000 at least would be affected by the cuts.

The actual total might never be known, if some of those who would have applied will be deterred by the funding changes.

Those who are already at university will not have their funding cut - so students will get differing levels funding depending on which year of their course they are on.

The shadow universities spokesman David Willetts said the latest revelations came as "a hammer blow to families up and down the country". The department accuses the Tories of hypocrisy on the grounds that when the improvements to the student package were announced last year they opposed them.


Some of your comments on this issue:

I am a student who receives 550 in grants, sitting just below the upper threshold. Losing this grant next year will completely cripple me as my parents have three other children to support on their income. I think it is unfair for the government to effectively go back on a promise they have made to thousands of students to support them, especially as Their university was free...
Katy, Egham

I am a first year student and currently get a grant of 1000 but without this I would be short of money. I work part time as much as possible just to get by. My Parents may earn so much but they have about 40,000 in debts so none of this comes to me. I don't think it is fair that all students be tested by parents income only as it doesn't include outgoings like other children or debts. I'm just thankful that they are keeping the grants for existing students the same! I feel sorry for the new first years!
Jamie, Ormskirk

My parents fall just under the 30,000 income bracket, and the grant is more than essential to me as my parents have 3 children (all younger than me) and cannot afford to give me any money. As a second year student the grant and loan only just cover my accomodation and bills, leaving me with the money I earnt over the summer for food - not a whole lot of spare cash. Taking even a penny away from me will plunge me into further debt (on top of the tuition fees and loan I will owe the government at the end of my course). The government is crippling us before we even have a chance to earn!
Erin, Nottingham

Anticipating the ridiculous cost of university I decided to take a gap year, not to travel and have a fun, but to work full time and save up. Now because I did this it seems I will be missing out on a grant entirely! And my sister decided to go to university the same year so my parents are really going to struggle as much as us students. I think this problem lies in the fact that too many students are encouraged to go to university to do an irrelevant degree because it is seen as mandatory for most vaguely intelligent people to have a degree. There is no way I would go if I did not need my Law degree to become a barrister.
Katherine, Surrey

Take the example of two families both earning 60,000 a year. In one family, the mother and the father both earn 30,000 a year. In the other family, a single mother earns 60,000 a year. After tax, the 2 parent family has approximately 45,000 disposable income. The sngle mother, on the other hand, has approximately 41,000. That 4000 makes a difference when you're having to help pay towards your children's unversity fees because they recieve nothing from the government. But in the eyes of the government, they earn the same. Bit unfair ain't it.
Emma, Newcastle

I am a first year student at Uni in London.As it is, we find it difficult to manage with the Student Loan and still need to get support from the family.The parents too are burdened with mortgages and education of other siblings. It's almost impossible to continue with University if there is any go back on the student loan scheme.

Why look at only earnings? what about expenditure? Why not take an income expenditure statement as the deciding factor?
Lalitha A, Manchester

Taking into consideration both the grant and the loan I get it is not enough money. With two weeks to go until the break up for Christmas, I only have 50 left from the 2000 I received at the start of the term and I have not spent it on getting drunk every night and going out - all of it has gone on food, accomodation, books, a laptop (the cheapest one I could get hold off), bus fare, medical prescriptions, lab coat, lab fees and materials such as pens, paper etc for the course. And now they want to take more money away from students? No wonder why this country is full of unemployed layabouts - the government actively encourages it by making it vertually impossible for anyone to get the qualifications they need to get a job!
Emily,

I went to University a few years ago and I have struggled financially ever since. Despite getting research jobs since for good Universities, including Oxford, science does not pay well! Due to spiralling debt, I had to declare myself bankrupt earlier this year. I could write for hours on the problems with the higher education system but to summarise: if I had of known the financial mess I would end up in, I would never have gone to University.
Beth, London

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