Student hardship’s greatest hits in a 4 CD set

The government should provide immediate additional hardship support for students, increase maintenance loans and raise the household income threshold entitling students to the maximum loan.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

Those are some of the key recommendations in today’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students inquiry into the financial position of students – highlighting what it says is the disproportionate impact on marginalised groups, increased student drop-out rates (in particular on postgraduate study), the rise in students working excessive hours in paid employment alongside full-time study, and consequences for the wider student experience and graduate employment.

Its chair Paul Blomfield MP writes on the report in the Times – highlighting the impacts of the crisis on student choices:

We are seeking not simply to support students with the cost-of-living crisis, but to ensure that financial pressures don’t force those from less advantaged backgrounds into decisions that will affect their study and limit their wider opportunities”

An impressive 70 students’ unions responded to the inquiry, as well as all the mission groups and charities like the Sutton Trust – and the report comes from APPG members from all main parties, including Labour Blomfield and Alex Sobel, Conservative MP Robin Walker, Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse, SNP MP Alison Thewliss and Green MP Caroline Lucas.

Robin Walker might ask himself why his actual select committee (especially since it was previously chaired by current minister Robert Halfon) seems to have studiously avoided looking at this issue for the entire time that the Department for Education has held responsibility for higher education.

And both Blomfield and Sobel might ask why Labour appears not to have a line on student maintenance either. Even if it avoids the fees issue, how hard can it be to cook up some policy principles on studying without being cold or hungry?

In terms of the evidence, we don’t really learn anything new here – it’s another miserable Now! album of hardship, and while I’ve not seen one yet, doubtless the DfE press office will pump out the usual “magic money twig” uplift of £15m to student premium funding in any quote issued.

With Blomfield and Walker both stepping down at the next election, we might reasonably ask who on earth will highlight these sorts of issues once they’re gone. Blomfield in particular has been something of a loneish champion of student issues over the years, and he’ll be missed by NUS in particular when he’s gone.

£75m wouldn’t touch the sides either, but while I’m on, do you remember that money that DfE said it was going to invest in a National Scholarship Scheme for disadvantaged students? September 2022 was pushing it, but I don’t think it was unreasonable to assume that this little sop replacing a proper response to Augar’s chapter on maintenance might appear for September 2023. No sign of it yet.

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