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Maintenance loans create barriers to education in expensive cities

By Lucy Pegg

Thursday 23 November 2017 Student Journalists

Most students know that money can be a struggle whilst at university, and it's not just pricey tuition fees that are an issue either. Often simply the cost of living can be a pressing daily concern.

Government maintenance loans supposedly cover the costs of daily life, but it is system full pitfalls. For students in expensive cities, but outside London, these flaws are all the more glaring.

For the 2017/18 academic year, London students could receive up to £11,002 in maintenance loan. Those outside London could only expect a maximum of £8,430. In cheap towns and cities this division sounds fair; but what happens when you study somewhere where living costs are rocketing, becoming almost as high as those in the capital?

Many cities are caught in this trap, from Oxford and Cambridge to Bristol or Edinburgh – and Brighton, where I study. In cities like these yet another barrier to education is placed in front of students, with the current student loans system refusing to recognise that our cost of living is far above average.

My £120 a week rent (not including bills…) might seem eye-watering to some, but is entirely typical for Brighton. It’s extremely rare to find students paying less than £100 a week in rent – and if they are, its likely they’re putting up with fairly tragic living conditions in return.

In comparison, Newcastle University suggests students can expect rent to start at £85 a week, whilst the University of Birmingham puts the average student rent at £75 and claims prices can start at just £55 a week. Yet whether you’re in Birmingham or Brighton your maintenance loan will be the same.

This gap between loan payments and the cost of living is often filled by generous parents. In fact, a 2016 study found that after student loans, money from parents was the largest source of income for students. But for many students receiving money from family just isn’t possible. They may turn to part time jobs instead; though in an expensive city, full of eager young people desperate to make it their home, this is often easier said than done.

The nagging voices that tell us to “just get a job” might not realise quite how competitive a minimum wage barista position can be.

Surely the effect of this gap between loans and living costs is to drive less wealthy students away from expensive student cities? When universities are supposed to be melting pots of identities and backgrounds, this divide could make expensive cities bland places to study. And if students who face barriers to education do choose to study in places like Brighton, will they have the freedom to explore and contribute to university life when money could be so tight?

The student loans system is entirely inadequate, but while it exists it must do more to allow students to study wherever, no matter their financial situation.


 

Lucy Pegg

Hi, I'm Lucy and I'm a final year English Literature student at the University of Sussex. Throughout my time at university I've been involved in student societies and media, and am especially interested in politics and activism on campus. I think it's crucial that students and young people have their voices heard in current affairs. Besides trying to change the world, I also love reading, cooking and going for a chilly swim on Brighton beach.