Monday 1 August 2016

No more student grants

About 50 years ago, the government paid for my university tuition, and also gave me £370 per year to pay for my digs, food, books and beer. My mother was widowed 12 years previously, and our family was very short of money (what is today called "in poverty"), so I got the maximum grant. That let me spend three years playing bridge, reading books and generally enjoying myself. Plus I managed to get a degree in maths.

With that degree, I was able to get a nice job working for Marconi. The department I worked for, had an Elliott 503 computer, I fell in love with it, and the rest was inevitable.

If I hadn't had that grant, what would have happened?

I would have still passed the Cambridge Common Entrance and been offered a place. But I would have had to borrow deeply to finance those three years. Today, August 1 2016, the government withdrew a grant to poorer students that had been £3,387 per year. Fees are about £9000, living costs - I don't know, but maybe £3000? So at the end of three years, I'd be looking at a debt of £36,000.

I would have done that calculation, and thought about it. Would I have taken on the debt? There would have been two forces at work. On the one hand, our family had a huge respect for education; I would have wanted to go to Cambridge, and my mother would have encouraged me.

On the other hand, we had a strong aversion to debt, especially debt where you don't know when or if you can repay it.

I don't know what my decision would have been. I'm immensely grateful that I didn't have to take it.

As a result of my education, I've made a contribution to this country, via my tax payments, that I have no idea how big it is, but sure as sugar it's hugely greater than if I'd gone to work as a bank clerk or suchlike.

I cannot believe that it was a Labour government that sawed through the ladder that let me become a well-paid professional. I can well believe that a Tory government would treble these fees, and are now hammering impoverished students yet again.

Our children are the future of our country.

We should go back to the system whereby tuition and living expenses are paid for out of taxation, even if that means that some of the less well-regarded courses are abolished.

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