This is an unfair education policy


A number of constituents have been in touch recently with various concerns about the UK Government’s policy towards further and higher education.

Students, teachers and parents in Birmingham are rightly angry. The Government’s is scrapping University maintenance grants for the poorest students, rewriting the terms and conditions of student loans, and now there are concerns about  the implications of an area review of Further Education colleges and sixth forms launched by the Government.

This is not a fair education policy – for young people or our area.

The Chancellors removal of maintenance grants for students going to university in 2016/2017 could have real consequences for students from poorer families. In his budget he pledged to abolish the maintenance grants that are provided to less well-off students to help with their day to day costs whilst at university.

The government has underestimated the impact that cutting this grant will have on the ambitions and choices of poorer students, and will simply add even more debt on students’ shoulders.

And this comes at a time when Government plans to make graduates pay back even more for their tuition fees than they expected. Those who began university in 2012- just in time to be hit with the tripling of tuition fees- are having the conditions of their repayment scheme changed.

When the 2012 system was launched, students were told that they would pay back nine per cent of everything earned above £21,000 a year. Students were promised this figure would be increased each year in line with average earnings. However now the government wants to freeze it at £21,000 instead which could significantly increase costs for students.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies tells us the Government’s policy could mean the average student pays an extra £6,000 over their lifetime and that middle earners will be hit harder than wealthier people.

Those who have already signed up to their student loans contracts are rightly angry that the terms or repayment are being changed retrospectively. This action is yet another broken promise to young people in the UK – no wonder people scratch their head and wonder why so many young people feel party politics doesn’t represent them.

Most recently the Government has launched a “Post-16” area review into colleges and sixth forms in Birmingham in an attempt to cut the post-16 education budget. Existing massive cuts to the post-16 budget are estimated to have already left over fifty per cent of colleges in financial difficulties. This raises real concerns about where the Government’s review of FE will leave adult skills training and opportunities for some of the most vulnerable students in the country.

The post-16 education sector is critical to productivity and economic growth in Birmingham. In the next few weeks, I and other MPs will be meeting with Government representatives to share concerns. I’ll be saying more about this in the coming weeks, so please keep an eye out and get in touch if you want to share your views.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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