On the 19th of July, our VC Glynis Breakwell was interviewed by The Independent about the future of UK universities, and aired several controversial viewpoints about the £9k tuition fees and recently announced cut in maintenance grants.
In the interview she asserts that “the thing that students are most concerned about is not the tuition fee, it is actually how they maintain themselves while going through the three- or four-year programme”.
The interviewer notes that the VC gives the impression that “the cash crisis on the horizon won’t be felt so much by those who paid for the privilege of learning, as by some of the universities themselves”.
At a high-ranking university like Bath, it could be assumed that many students will not be affected by the new grant changes. However the latest available Equality and Diversity statistics show that 1 in 5 of Bath students are classed as being from a lower socioeconomic group.
Although more money will be available to the student in this loan compared to the grant, for some students leaving university with a larger amount of debt than their peers seems like a tax on being poor and is unacceptable, as it is estimated these students will have £10,000 more debt upon graduation.
An alternative to the new loans is part-time work during study, which has been shown to negatively affect the final degree classification of the student. A further blow is that most students will not qualify for the new living wage, meaning they will work longer hours for the same pay as over 25s.
Additionally, she believes that cutting tuition fees would be ‘regressive’ and has previously said it “A proposal to cut the fee cap does not help poorer students and risks the quality of education for all”, despite the 2012 rise causing a 17% drop in overall undergraduate numbers in the UK.
The student group Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts has voiced anger at the Vice Chancellors comments, stating that they “were not surprised to read that Glynis Breakwell, who was a key figure in campaigning for the 2011 increase in tuition fees, has come out in support of George Osbourne’s plan to scrap maintenance grants”.
They continued to say “the scrapping of maintenance grants will force students into even more debt and, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, will hit the poorest students hardest. We reject the marketisation and commodification of higher education that has led to this staggering pay inequality on campus and the normalisation of a debt culture in which students lose out while university bosses line their pockets.”
In response to the claims of marketisation and undergraduate number decrease, a University of Bath spokesperson told bathimpact that “Since the introduction of the new tuition fee regime, the University of Bath has bucked the national trend and seen a year on year increase in the number of students applying to study here, reflecting the very strong position we continue to maintain in the sector.
To continue to deliver an excellent student experience we need to provide a first class infrastructure. The University has invested over £200 million in our campus in the past few years and this can only be achieved through prudent and robust financial planning.”