Comment: Cuts to maintenance grants will hit the poorest students hardest

By Megan Dunn

Representatives from student unions across the UK are today converging on Parliament to lobby MPs over the government's plan to scrap maintenance grants for the poorest students.

These plans, along with other plans to end bursary support for medical students and the Disabled Students Allowance, threatens to dramatically change both the face of education – and the faces within education.

For the past few months, students have been organising and running activities on campuses under our #CutTheCosts campaign, and now it is imperative that their voices are heard.

This is not just about tuition fees. There is widespread concern across the UK about students struggling with the rising costs of study and living. Students now face escalating debts which threaten to see the poorest graduates leaving university owing up to £53,000. This is the real story of education today: mortgage levels of debt being piled onto the shoulders of the poorest students. Debts for study, borrowing to buy books, putting transport costs onto credit cards, and taking out payday loans to cover rising rents.

Replacing grants with loans doesn't put more money back in students' pockets in the long term, it simply saddles them with crippling debt. We know it will be a deterrent for the part-time students, student carers and student parents who don't know whether they can afford to keep the electricity on from one day to the next. These are students working hard to pursue an education for a better future for themselves and their families. We are also seeing a rising number of people working two or three jobs alongside their studies so they aren't forced to drop out.

This is the crisis of a generation, and politicians must be confronted with this reality that is damaging our futures. This is a crisis that cannot continue. We need MPs to step up and help us to cut the debilitating costs that students face to ensure we end the debt crisis.

The scrapping of maintenance grants will only make the crisis worse. We want politicians to write to Jo Johnson, the universities minister, to raise these concerns and commit to opposing the regulations that will scrap maintenance grants forever.

George Osborne's long-term economic plan has been built on the idea that piling up personal debt is somehow a solution to public debt. He would be wise to learn the lessons of the financial crisis in 2008, the former can often lead to the latter. Decisions to scrap maintenance grants, end bursaries for our future doctors and pile debts onto the poorest students is simply mortgaging the future of our country.

Today in Parliament we will be kindly reminding every MP that we are very good at ensuring people don't forget the decisions they make. Just ask Nick Clegg.

Our job now is to convince MPs that the rising costs of study and living – as well as the importance of protecting student unions – is an issue they simply cannot ignore.

Megan Dunn is national president of the National Union of Students

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