The Department for Education has announced increased maintenance loans for students in England.
If the headline of its press release is to be believed, the Department for Education (DfE) has announced a ‘Cost of living bonus for students’. This has two elements, one of which was already known:
- The maximum (and de facto minimum) tuition fee will remain at £9,250 for the 2023/24 and 2024/25 academic years. While good news for students, the freeze is bad news for universities which have seen their tuition fees for UK students frozen since 2017. Expect more efforts to recruit foreign students and more kickback from a Home Office worried about migration numbers.
- Means-tested maintenance loans will be increased for the 2023/24 academic year by 2.8%.
The 2.8% maintenance loan increase is well below the expected rate of inflation for September 2023 (6.9% according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) projection) and follows on from a 2.3% rise in September 2022. Look back further and the 2023/24 maintenance loan numbers will be just 8.4% above those for 2020/21. To keep pace with inflation (including that OBR projection), the increase would need to be over 21%.
A recent House of Commons briefing paper suggested that the real terms cuts in maintenance loans are ‘likely to be around 7% in 2022/23 and 4% in 2023/24’. It included an assessment that ‘The maximum support in 2023/24 will be around £1,100 less than in 2021/22 in September 2022 prices if adjusted by CPI inflation.’
Although the loan limit is creeping up, there was no indication in the ministerial statement of any rise in the means-testing parental income threshold, which has been stuck at £25,000 since 2008/09. Maintenance loan entitlement is reduced by 14.42% of parental income over the threshold, subject to minimum loans for 2023/24 ranging from £3,698 (living at home) to £6,485 (living away from home and studying in London).
The media focus on student debt often overlooks the impact of increasingly inadequate maintenance loans. The issue is exacerbated by the fact that parents are under no legal obligation to pay over their notional means tested maintenance contribution. The result can often be more student borrowing that is not from the Student Loans Company and therefore does not disappear if it is still outstanding after 30 years. This is one more factor to consider when planning university funding.
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