Many of us will know by now that maintenance grants are to be scrapped, and will be replaced by maintenance loans, as of 2016. Lesser known, however, is the news that the government did not investigate how this change would affect applications made from disadvantaged backgrounds, apparently abandoning their “evidence-based policy”.

Jo Johnson, the Universities Minister, told the former Shadow Minister for Universities, Chuka Umunna, in a written Commons answer: “The growth in student numbers since 2012 [when fees trebled], including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, suggests that students are not deterred from entering higher education when asked to bear more of the cost of their study.”

In response, Mr Umunna said: “After the government trebled fees in the last parliament, targets for increasing student numbers were missed. Now ministers are pushing ahead with further deeply regressive changes to higher education funding, and are not even trying to ascertain how they will impact on the number of people able to attend university.”

The maintenance grant acted as an incentive for students from poorer backgrounds to chose higher education, as it made it more affordable; any student from a household with an income of less than £25,000 could have £7,434, including £3,387 in grant money. However, the change means that the lump sum will all be a loan, and, depending on future salary, may have to be paid back.

Some have claimed that this could lead to students from disadvantaged backgrounds now feel worse off than their better off counterparts and often fear the crippling debt they face as a cost of university. However, given that the government did not research its policy it is unclear what the impact of the decision will be.

[su_spoiler title=”Meg Bradbury says Osborne scored an own goal” style=”simple” icon=”chevron-circle” anchor=”Comment”]When announcing his ‘Summer Budget’ Osborne claimed that it represented a “basic unfairness” to ask taxpayers to “fund grants for people who are likely to earn a lot more than them”. What Osborne has failed to take into account is the possibility that, without a maintenance grant to support them, some people may now be unable to afford to complete the degree which would have lead to them receiving a higher salary than the people who are, supposedly, unfairly funding their education.

Admittedly, a replacement loan is to be offered to students who are affected by this, but it does show that Osborne has utterly failed to grasp what the grant represents to some people. The fact that the maintenance grant was money which did not have to be paid back plays a big part in this. It isn’t just about the money itself; it’s a matter of perception. Students who were receiving the grant could feel supported by the fact that, whilst they may worry about leaving university thousands of pounds in debt, this money would not be adding to it; it might even have encouraged some people to apply to university in the first place. This is not to say that the student loan system was perfect as it was. It relied upon families with a certain level of income being financially able to use that money in support of a degree, regardless of other costs they may be facing, although that’s a different issue.

The chancellor’s latest university funding plans may well be economically sound and have been made with the laudable intention of balancing the country’s books. However, it is difficult to see how anything which runs the risk of limiting people’s access to education for financial reasons, in a country which is often celebrated for its free education system, could be looked at in a favourable light.[/su_spoiler]