Government amendments to student loans could contribute to increasing inequality

The government may block students who fail to achieve certain grades in their GCSEs and A-levels from accessing student finance. This potential new legislation is likely to affect lower-income families the hardest and contribute to growing inequality across the UK. 

A key concern raised about this new requirement is that whilst it prevents those who are both from less affluent families and who have not been so successful academically from going to university, it continues to allow those who may have got the same grades or lower [changed from worse] to attend, as long as their family can afford the £9,250 a year tuition fees. Therefore, this amendment is being seen by many as an attempt to create a divide between those who would be able to access higher education through wealth against lower-income families. 

This adds to an existing problem in our society in which disadvantaged students often do achieve less academically. University and College Union general secretary Jo Grady said: “We saw during the pandemic that those from better-off backgrounds benefited most from grade inflation, with private schools gaming the system”. On the back of this, many hoped more would be done to reduce the gap between private and state school students, however, this legislation will do the opposite. 

There are many reasons why a student might not achieve as highly as a more-advantaged peer, but as Children and Young People Now passionately express: “Where you’re from shouldn’t affect where you can go”. In England, about 71% of pupils achieve a Grade 4 in GCSE English and Maths, but this falls to 52% among disadvantaged households. Students finding out at age 16 of a missed opportunity to further education at university may be discouraged from hard work at school or from pursuing future interests. Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “After nearly three years of inaction, this meagre response shows the government does not share the ambitions of young people and their families for their futures and the future of our country”. 

University leaders have warned setting minimum requirements too high can completely dash the hopes of school leavers across the country, from those who underachieved at GCSE for any number of reasons, to those whose families cannot afford consistently increasing tuition fees.

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Rachel Keane

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June 2022
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