Whilst politicians tend to grab the votes of students by tackling the problem of tuition fees, arguably a more pressing issue is the system of maintenance loans and financial support for living costs at university.
A recent report, commissioned by the Scottish government, has suggested that students need a minimum of £8,100 a year for living costs. This sum would be made up of a balance between loans and bursaries, depending on the student’s financial background. The report aims to support students by giving them an equal start at university, regardless of their financial situation at home.
Fortunately, the report addresses the current issues of the maintenance loan system in which parental income is used to determine the amount of loan a student can take out. Parents’ ability to support their child at university cannot simply be decided by looking at financial data from one year, yet in the current system this is glaringly overlooked. The findings of the report combat the issue of a reliance on parents for money whilst at university by ensuring every student has a sufficient income.
Currently in Scotland, students are entitled to a maximum maintenance loan of £5750 and a minimum of £4750, with very few students eligible for bursaries. Similarly, the minimum loan in England is £3928. In many British cities, these figures do not even cover the cost of rent. Consequently, students are forced to rely on parents, part-time jobs or both just to make ends meet.
With the current maintenance loan system, families in the middle of the scale are hit the hardest. Theoretically, a student’s low maintenance loan should be balanced by their families’ income. However, this does not necessarily mean parents have the savings in place to support their children through their degree.
Furthermore, insufficient maintenance loans, for some families, mean that students cannot pursue certain courses. For example, parents may not be able to afford to support students through a degree longer than three years, cutting off the likes of Medicine or postgraduate programmes. This is especially a problem for parents with multiple children to support through university.
If the Scottish government implement the findings of the report, every student will be given an equal university experience. The idea of a universal minimum income for all students should be implemented across the UK as it is the way to ensure every student has equal opportunities, regardless of their family’s financial situation.
A further issue that needs consideration is the cost of living in university towns or cities. Students studying in London receive an increased maintenance loan to cover above average rent prices and living costs. However, similar measures should be taken for students in othertowns or cities with higher rent prices, such as Edinburgh and St Andrews. Currently these institutions are inaccessible for students with low maintenance loans and minimal help from parents.
The idea of a minimum income for students is key to giving all students equal opportunities and independence without relying on parents who may struggle to provide the necessary funding that university requires. As part of this essential reform, factors such as university location should also be taken into consideration. These measure would be the first steps to creating a more accessible and balanced education system.
Image: CafeCredit.com via Flickr