The elimination of the student maintenance grant in English universities continues to have a significant impact on many of my students, particularly those who are among the most economically challenged in the country.
Critics argue that the removal of the grant, which provided up to £3,387 annually to the poorest students until 2016, results in these students bearing the brunt of loans and accumulating the largest amount of debt upon graduation.
Unwilling to incur more debt in addition to their tuition fees, many students resort to working long hours. Virtually all of my students work paid jobs while pursuing their studies, which harms not only their grades but also their mental health.
This situation is unjust. At certain top-tier universities, including Oxford, first-year students are prohibited from taking part-time employment, "except under exceptional circumstances and in consultation with your tutor and senior tutor," as stated on Oxford’s website. This is something my students can only imagine. One of my first-year students works as a bartender after classes, often for 30 hours per week, earning £10 hourly. "I’d rather focus on my studies and not have to work, but I have bills to pay," he stated. "I would probably have done better if I didn’t have to work." Others had to work 40 hours per week, or even more.
According to moneysavingexpert.com, the government anticipates that parents of students who started university after 2016 will contribute up to £5,700 annually in living costs. This figure is based on parental income, irrespective of the parents’ willingness to contribute.
Currently, the government is reviewing post-18 education and funding, an opportunity to reintroduce maintenance grants. Universities UK, which serves as a representative to vice-chancellors, and the Russell Group have advocated for this.
In its 2015 budget, the government eliminated the grants, stating that they had become "unaffordable." No concrete measures have been taken by Theresa May to make university funding "fairer" in the review.
One of my other students, who is in her 30s, works at least 40 hours per week in a hotel. Another student said that he could only allocate £27 per week for food, while another mentioned that he survives on pasta and canned tuna the week before he receives his pay. While studying in Paris, a French student remarked that she received €400 a month. She currently enrolls full-time while working four eight-hour days per week at a shop as she receives no family assistance. "I haven’t slept properly in the last two weeks as I had an exam deadline," she added, revealing that sometimes she writes essays while commuting.
Some students arrive late for classes or sleep through them after working night shifts. Others choose to skip classes due to their work schedules, fearing the risk of termination if they decline to work overtime or fill in for an absent colleague. As a result, students who work may miss essential course extracurricular events outside of regular class hours.
Some students underperform due to a lack of time to improve their grades. Others unable to cope with failure drop out, while some have to undergo counselling services to resume their studies. Some resort to cheating to make up, either by purchasing essays, copying from another student’s work, or committing plagiarism.
In the interim, too many students will select their university based on whether they can live at home or the cost of living rather than the suitability of the course of study. And for bright students from disadvantaged backgrounds, Oxbridge, where they cannot work, will continue to be a distant dream.