This is my first blog as Vice Chairman of BUCF and I have decided to focus specifically on an issue close to the hearts of many students here at Birmingham and a topic so often raised around campus. Means Tested Student Loans.
Means tested student loans are another concrete example of this government’s prejudice towards our middle classes; those who have had both the desire and aspiration to better themselves, and in doing so contributed enormously in the creation of the wealth which is evident all around us. In my opinion, it is both fundamentally wrong and socially destructive to means test student funding at any level of education, in the way that it both inhibits individuals and discriminates against them if the criteria are inadequate in filtering out who deserves what. Means tested student loans and the problems which they cause when used in situations such as this, where despite being of a legal independent age individuals are still assessed on their parents income, will undoubtedly have a knock on effect on the aspirations of our younger generations who lose out and are effectively ‘cheated’ by this unfair system.
I was quite staggered upon my arrival at university, coming from a predominantly working to lower middle class market town in rural Lincolnshire, by the sheer numbers of students whose parents paid for both their accommodation, and provided them with money for living expenses. At the same time, I was equally astounded by the level of student support available to those students whose parents earned a combined income below the threshold which the vast majority thoroughly needed and deserved. However debating the criteria of the means test is not the source of my critique of the present student loans system, it is more focused on the principle behind it and the context in which it is used. Moreover, it is the fact that a student who falls between these roughly defined groups, and whose parents don’t provide them with any extra money to live off, have to obtain the funding from elsewhere, often by working throughout the summer vacation and during the university semester. In the mildest sense this is unfair, in its extremity it is discrimination against that individual on the basis of what their parents earn.
It is evident that the principle behind this governments student loans policy is one which is based on the presumption that because you’re parents earn more than another’s they should provide you with the extra money required to fund your education, treating it as if it were a ‘accepted norm’. However, even though many parents feel a moral obligation to support and foster their children through their university education, it is wrong that the government actually presumes and even expects parents to ‘bridge the gap’ in terms of financing their children through this crucial stage in their development.
Often, this presents a dilemma for the parents, of whether to teach their son or daughter the value of money which they themselves had to learn, or to support them and to succumb to another example of a Labour initiative to reduce inequality, in doing so restricting the opportunities of others. It is my view that if we are going to revive Britain’s economy, more should be done to provide inspiration and drive to those individuals from every socio economic background and not to actively provide disincentive to the younger generations who embody our future by discriminating against a particular social group through an unfair and inadequate means test, which relies on general presumption as opposed to a solid grounding.