What do students want from the government in 2015?

It seemed like the government was giving students an early Christmas present last month, when George Osborne announced the introduction of a postgraduate loan system. Of course, it’s a Christmas present that’ll help just a fraction of the student population - and it’s one they’ll have to pay back, with interest.

With lots of talk about the power of the youth vote in the run-up to May’s general election, politicians should be wondering what political gifts the rest of the student population would value. Here’s what students have told me is on their wishlists:

Cheaper housing
Benedict Churchus, a student at the University of Birmingham, wants rent control on student houses. “So much of people’s loans doesn’t go on living, but rather on just having a house,” he says.

“University tuition fees are bearable because the student loan pays for them directly. The bigger problem is day-to-day living. I feel like I get a bit ripped off. In Birmingham, it seems there are several big companies that thrive on student rent.”

Churchus wants a student rent package to be introduced that would include fixed prices for rent and utility costs, making housing more affordable.

Hannah Davenly, a student at SOAS in London, also highlights housing as a major issue, particularly for students in London. “My rent for a quite-nice-but-small box room in a shared house is £540 per month – which is an extremely good price for London.”

To help with housing costs, Davenly says the government should build more affordable housing, and increase the maintenance loan, or subsidise housing to cover the cost of rent.

“Certainly in London, it’s impossible to find accommodation that’s cheap enough for you not to have to work long hours while you study,” she says.

Student finance reform 
Jess Rome, a student at Durham University, says student loans need overhauling this year. “The system needs to be changed so that everyone going to university can access enough money in a way that doesn’t leave them with unpayable levels of debt.

“Everyone should be allowed to access the highest level of maintenance loan. Rather than capping the amount you receive, the government could cap the level at which you can receive the low interest rates, using the current qualifying system.”

At present, maintenance loans are means tested. While all students living away from home are entitled to a maximum of £5,555 per year, or £7,751 in London, those whose household income is less than £25,000 qualify for a government maintenance grant of £3,387, which doesn’t have to be repaid.

Beth Vincent, a student at the University of Bath, agrees that the system needs reforming. “The way maintenance loans are decided seems a little unfair. I’m entitled to the minimum loan, but this doesn’t even cover my rent.

“My parents aren’t super rich so don’t support me with extra money, other than the odd thing like a bus pass or gadget insurance. This means I have to be very careful with money, work through years of savings, and end up being among the worst-off people at uni,” she says.

Free education
For others though, free education is the key demand. Elliot Folan, a student at the University of East Anglia, says the cost of university is the most important policy that needs changing.

“I’d ask the government to abolish all charges for higher education, including tuition fees and taxes, because education is a right that should be available to all – not a privilege that should be available only to the rich,” says Folan.

Fairer admissions
Katie Maloney from Norwich, who has just sent off her Ucas application and hopes to study sports science at university this year, thinks the university admissions process needs changing.

“If the government wants people to apply to university, they shouldn’t make us pay to apply, on top of the extortionate amount for tuition fees. It’s simply unfair, especially since your application doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be accepted by a university.”

Applying to study one course via Ucas currently costs £12, while applying for up to five different courses costs £23.

Make universities democratic
Hannah Forsyth, a student at the University of York, wants the government to help make the higher education system more democratic. “Abolish vice-chancellors and senior management and replace them with elected posts that are paid a reasonable wage – not £250k a year.

“We also need to give students majority representation on all university committees.”

(Source: TheGuardian)


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