Kent Union Sabbs rally against maintenance grants being cut

Kent Union Sabbs rally against maintenance grants being cut


Photo: Kent Union

A petition to lobby the University of Kent’s Vice-Chancellor, Dame Julia Goodfellow, to oppose the threat of savage cuts to Student Maintenance Grants has been started by the Sabbatical Officers of Kent Union.

The campaign, led by Jack Lay, Kent Union’s Vice-President (Education), is being launched this week in reaction to the reports that Student Maintenance Grants are ‘likely’ to be cut or phased out altogether in an effort to save costs in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) – presenting what could be a barrier of access to higher education for many students.

The idea of these cuts, first tabled back in 2013 but blocked by the Liberal Democrats whilst in coalition, have resurfaced in the wake of the next Chancellors’ Budget. Government officials refused to comment on the proposal to cut the grants, but did not deny the suggestion that it was being considered.

The budget for maintenance grants, worth up to £3,387 per year per student, currently comes in at £1.57 billion per annum according to the latest figures available.

The petition calls upon the Vice-Chancellor, who is President-Elect of Universities UK, the highest governing group that represents all major universities across the UK, to lobby against these cuts. All signatures on the petition will then be presented to the Vice-Chancellor in a meeting next week, in hope to show that a large number of students oppose these cuts to the education budget.

Speaking to InQuire, Jack Lay said: “I was fortunate enough to be in the position to survive without a grant, but many of my friends and housemates would have struggled to live without them. For a small amount of cost in the grand scheme of the Department of Business budget, it makes a real difference to getting students from disadvantaged backgrounds into university.”

“We are calling on our Vice-Chancellor to oppose these cuts which will affect the poorest students and jeopardise access [to Higher Education].”

Nick Hillman, former advisor to Universities Minister David Willetts, said that the “BIS is one of the departments that no political party promised to protect, and this is one of the very big items in BIS’s budget.”

Speaking exclusively to InQuire, Hillman said the possibility of stopping the proposed cuts was unlikely, and that “very little” could be done to stop it. “They (The Conservative Party) promised more cuts.”

Mark Leach, policy expert from the education blog, commented: “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 and the loan book.”

Fiona Edwards, leading student campaigner and member of several influential campaign groups, told InQuire “The Tories’ plans to cut vital financial support for the most disadvantaged students is an absolute disgrace.

“We are already facing a cost of living crisis with rising rents, food prices, transport fares and energy bills leaving far too many living in poverty. Cutting maintenance grants is only going to deepen this crisis.

“The truth is we need more investment in education to boost the economy and provide jobs. These cuts to education are going to have the opposite effect.”

President-Elect of the NUS, Megan Dunn, commented: “If grants are cut, it could mean the cost of student loans will go up for everyone or repayment conditions will get tougher than they already are.”

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