Student Finance: Students from Low-income Backgrounds

Education – in the House of Commons on 20th January 2020.

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Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

What assessment he has made of the effect of the student finance system on students from low-income backgrounds.

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

The current student finance system removes financial barriers to those hoping to study. The Government review support for students annually, and we have recently announced a 2.9% increase to maximum grants and maintenance loans for the 2020-21 academic year. This takes support for the lowest-income students to record levels.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

In 2010, like thousands of other young people, I argued against the tripling of tuition fees, but the Government ignored us, and I currently have around £50,000 of student debt. I have here my latest student loan statement, which says that the interest added in the past year alone was £2,022.65. Can the Secretary of State look me in the eye and tell me that it is fair that working-class kids who want an education are being forced to take on colossal debt while his Government is led by a man who went from the playing fields of Eton to a free education at Oxford—

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

Students pay nothing back until they start earning £25,725 a year, and that will rise to £26,575 from April 2020. It is important to understand that the number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university has risen by 62% since 2009, and the Government are committed to looking at interest rates in future as part of the Conservative manifesto’s proposals.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

As a working-class lad who went to university and who voted against the tripling of tuition fees, I urge my hon. Friend to ignore the class warfare of Zarah Sultana. Was not the one thing I was wrong about in that 2010 vote that it would put working-class kids off, because the evidence is that it has had the exact opposite effect?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

I thank my hon. Friend for making that essential point. Participation has risen year on year. Individuals are going through the school system, increasing the standard of their skills, and deciding that they want to take up HE as a route to future opportunities. However, we recognise that there must also be future opportunities within the FE system, which is why we want to ensure that every pupil in the post-18 education system is able to benefit for the future.