Campaigners pledge to “fight back” against potential cuts to vital support grants

B244XwzIIAAIclAGrants given to the poorest university students could be cut as part of savings the Department for Business. Proposals to start phasing out grants, worth up to £3,387 a year, for students from less affluent households, were first drawn up in 2013 but were blocked by the Liberal Democrats. Currently, more than half a million students in England receive a maintenance grants worth in total £1.57bn a year.

The government is saying removing the grant completely could save around £2bn over three years, while converting a portion of individual grants to loans, or restricting eligibility would save less. According to the media, government sources refused to comment on the proposal, but have not denied the suggestion, and one source is quoted as saying: “officials are looking at everything”.

Higher education experts are sceptical whether the changes would really save the taxpayer any money at all. Reducing the amount of money paid out in grants would help the public finances in the short term, with the reductions helping to cut the deficit. But transferring more students onto loans would actually increase the national debt, so could end up costing the taxpayer more in the long term.

Mark Leach, policy expert from the education blog Wonkhe.com, said: “I think it’s increasingly likely to happen but in the long run it can’t be good for universities or graduates because it adds to the cost of the overall system, the loan book, and future chancellors of the exchequer could come back to the universities and come back to graduates and say, ‘we’re going to need to take more money back to pay for the system’.”

The National Union of Students has also condemned the proposals. National Union of Students vice president Megan Dunn said cutting maintenance grants would be “detrimental” to poorer students and could deter people from applying for university. She has called the proposals “unreasonable barrier to accessing higher education”.

James Elliot, NCAFC Disabled Rep to the National Committee said: “These cuts are likely to hit the poorest students hardest, showing that for all the talk about getting more working-class people into university, the government is still more interested in shrinking the state.

This is also going to have a hugely negative affect on disabled students, for whom the cost of living at university is already much higher. Students and NUS need to mobilise to force the government to change its mind.”

Fred Craig, NCAFC National Committee Member said: “These proposals from the government are truly devastating. The fact that the Tory government doesn’t recognise this and doesn’t seem to care about the implications of these cuts only makes a stronger case for the need to fight back against their brutal austerity. We need to keep up and go beyond the levels of protest and direct action that we’ve already been seeing this summer. We have to show David Cameron that he can’t just keep stepping on people and get away with it. We have to keep on fighting back.

NCAFC is one the many organisations leading the fight back against Tory austerity, we are organising a national demonstration against cuts and for the creation of free, fair, accessible education on November 18th as well as other actions.”

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