Last week, Members of Parliament voted to turn university maintenance grants into loans for the majority of students.
As the Government continues to rethink how we should run our public services, it is important to remember that despite the strong recovery, the economy still remains very fragile. We must consequently do more to live within our means.
The opportunity to go to university in Britain is an enormous honour. We must therefore ensure that young people – regardless of their background – are able to make use of the opportunities that higher education can provide, and we must ensure that everyone with the potential to benefit from a degree is able to do so.
This, however, can only happen in a sustainable system which puts higher education on a solid financial basis. Part of this must include providing support for students from low-income backgrounds to access higher education.
Corbyn’s Labour Party and the National Union of Students (NUS) constantly argue for free higher education. They overlook the fact that it would result in a cap having to be placed upon student numbers – thus decreasing opportunity. The result would be that individuals who were capable of studying a degree would be turned away, as under the old system.
As a student, I am proud that participation in higher education has continuously increased since 2010. We should celebrate the record numbers of students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds entering university – and making a huge success of their talents. Reform must take place so that this dynamic can continue – and the dream of going to university can become a reality for the many, and not just the few.
Yet none of this can be achieved, or indeed maintained, without also tackling the cost of providing it. If MPs had bowed to the wishes of the NUS, and voted against these proposals, it would have effectively meant voting against lifting the cap on students accessing higher education. What I cannot understand, is how an organisation, which claims to represent all university students across the country, and then the Labour Party, who says it is on the side of young people, could support such a cap on aspiration; telling some of Britain’s brightest students that they cannot go to university.
As Conservatives, we are the party of aspiration, and real opportunity – the party of government which truly believes that an individual’s background should never hold them back from unlocking their potential.
A loan instead of a grant means that students are treated on the basis of their own merits, rather than their parents’. We must foster aspiration and support young people to achieve their goals. Each and every young person should have the opportunity to make a success of their lives – and the lives of those around them.
With graduates amongst those who generally earn more than people without a degree, they should contribute a percentage of their earnings to the cost of studying. As a current undergraduate from a single-parent family, I would be happy to do this – provided that more young people are given the same opportunities that I have been given.
My question to those who oppose the Government’s reforms is: why should those who go out and work hard – such as shop workers, nurses, and care assistants – pay for higher education for individuals who will most likely earn a much larger salary than them?
The progressive repayments system for student loans, in which graduates only start repaying when they earn over £21,000, is fair. The condition that repayments cease if a graduate's earnings fall below this amount will provide a safety net, ensuring no graduate will ever be in a position where they cannot afford repayments.
Maintenance grants haven’t been abolished, but replaced by loans for new students. With the Government increasing the overall maintenance support available to £8,200 a year for those living away from home and studying outside London, more upfront money will be made available for those who want to go to university. Under this system, the poorest students will have around 10% more. Grants for those students who are carers, disabled, or have dependents will also continue to be available; ensuring real opportunity for all.
With overall graduate recruitment at its highest level since 2007, it is welcome that vacancies for graduate level jobs are up 8.1% from last year. Subsequently, employment prospects for young people are strong. This can only remain the case if we stay on course and underpin the jobs market with sound public finances.
More people going to university – particularly from low-income backgrounds – means that more students have the opportunity to excel and achieve their full potential. Scrapping student loans and fees would cost £10 billion, meaning that this would, as the Prime Minister explained, create
"a situation where people work hard yet pay their taxes for an elite to go to university."
Graduates will not have to pay back a penny of their loans until they are earning £21,000, and not in full until their salary reaches £35,000 a year.
The Government’s new system will provide students with the finance they need. It will be done in a more sustainable way than the alternatives. Most importantly, it will provide security, stability, and opportunity for our future generations. The Labour Party and NUS need to remember this when claiming to represent the best interests of students.
Joe Porter is a Parish Councillor in Staffordshire Moorlands and Chairman of Staffordshire Moorlands Conservative Future. He studies Marketing and Politics at Keele University, where he is a Trustee of Keele Student Union. He specialises in British politics and localism.