Cut the crap – students & the Budget VERSA

In a move of painful irony, those keenest to alleviate the effects of austerity have found themselves bearing the brunt of George Osborne’s cuts. The 2015 budget, the first one delivered to a Tory-majority government in 19 years, has been accused of unfairly targeting the young, telling them to “earn or learn.” With young people less likely to vote than OAPs, it’s obviously why the young are on the chopping block.

“Lads, lads, all the lads”

Osborne, a graduate from Magdalen College, has made significant changes to university funding arrangements, opening the door for tuition fee rises from 2016, and scrapping the maintenance grant for households earning under £40,000 a year. To compensate, the maintenance loan, repayable once a graduate is earning more than £21,000 a year, has been increased to nearly £9,000.

Whilst some have argued that the money will still be available to those that need it, and that only wealthier graduates will ever pay back the entirety of their loan, others have claimed students from the poorest backgrounds will end up paying more than their counterparts.

One student discussed how the grant affected his decision to come to Oxford: “It won’t stop poorer students going to university, but as the headline figure of debt breaks new records, it’ll make it hard to convince those students to study non-STEM subjects, and to study away from home. I’m disappointed that for poorer students, the only realistic aspiration associated with university is becoming financial.

It makes great value for taxpayers, but as a country we’ll lose out if students effectively have a class ceiling on subject choice, or if they choose the cost of living out over where their abilities can take them. I think at Oxford that the bursaries and scholarships on offer will help to counter this, but at a lot of other Russell Group universities, I’m not as convinced. I was swayed at the last minute from taking an offer at a local STEM course to come here and study Fine Art (it was a fun personal statement), and if the scales of debt were tipped that little bit higher, I probably wouldn’t have.”

Matt Sumpion, OULD co-chair, concurred: “This is a budget George Osborne never thought he would have to deliver, and it shows. Continuing the Lib Dem policy of taking the low paid out of income tax is welcome, but young people need a fair deal in the next parliament, particularly given how many voted in the last election. The measures to replace student maintenance grants with loans by 2016 is morally, economically and politically indefensible.”

David Klemperer, OULC co-chair, added: “We are saddened to see the Tories play to type with yet another budget that will disproportionately hurt the young and those on low incomes. In particular, we object to the abolition of the maintenance grant which will leave students from the poorest backgrounds graduating university with more debt than anyone else.”

Jan Nedvidek, OUCA president, backed up his disagreement with personal experience:

“I am of course very much aware of the increasing pressures on students’ budgets across the country – believe it or not, I myself receive the highest available amount in maintenance loan and grant, because my parents earn about a third of the UK minimum wage back in the Czech Republic” … “I genuinely believe it’s entirely fair and legitimate for the government to ask me for that money back when I start earning.”

“We must of course ensure that not a single person is put off studying at university because of the costs associated with it.” Nevidek told VERSA, before citing the Office for National Statistics, claiming that the number of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds keeps increasing.

The rise in fees will surely please those like Oxford Vice Chancellor Andy Hamilton, who argued that £16,000 would be a more appropriate figure. Cheers, Andy. Unfortunately for the Overlord, such a move is unlikely to happen soon, since fee rises will be tied to inflation, currently at 0.1%.

Here’s one we made earlier — bad luck, Andy

Whilst fee changes have come as a blow to those wanting to “learn,” those deciding to “earn” will similarly be facing barriers. For one, the new living wage, so well received by Iain Duncan Smith, will not apply for those under 25. The “National Living Wage,” effectively the minimum wage but with a less terrifying name, will be £9 per hour by 2020. So, someone on a 3 year course (assuming they started at 18) will have to wait four years for the new minmum wage to help them. It’s ok George, 21 year olds don’t need to be paid enough to live on, we can just download food from the internet.

Aside from not being included in wage rises, those under 21 will no longer by eligible for housing benefits. Although the policy is aimed at cutting benefits to those who could be living with their parents like their student counterparts, some have pointed out that many young people are unable to live with families for reasons of ill-health and financial strain. Oxford students will already be aware of the high rates of homelessness, in a city with some of the highest housing costs in the country.

George Osborne’s proposals, although deemed unworkable by some, have nonetheless got one factor which makes them inevitable to succeed: George Osborne. After all, this is the man who can write in print.

Using “the way of the (wage) warrior”

However, he was, of course, writing in invisible ink.

Classic from Twitter