Employment

Plans to restrict student loans by GCSE grades labelled an ‘attack on the working class’

The threshold for student loan repayments would also be lowered under the plans.

The government has published its long-awaited response to the Augar review of higher education funding, revealing wide-ranging reforms to universities. Image: Unsplash / Redd

Government plans to control university numbers by limiting student loans to those who achieve certain GCSE grades have been branded “classist, ableist and racist”.

The proposed reforms would see students who do not do not achieve English and maths GCSEs, or two A-levels at grade E, denied a student loan, and therefore only able to attend university if they have another way to pay the fees, such as parental wealth.

The plans have been widely criticised by unions, youth charities and students as restricting opportunities to those who can afford them, and placing further barriers on higher education for people from poorer backgrounds

“Plans for eligibility requirements to access student loans are an attack on working class learners and fly in the face of the levelling up-agenda,” said UCU general secretary Jo Grady. 

The announcements suggest ​​the government appears “determined to shut the door on those it thinks aren’t worthy of going to university,” she continued. 

“These proposals are classist, ableist and racist: they target those from marginalised communities, and seek to gatekeep education,” said Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students. “This is nothing more than an attack on opportunity.”

The Fair Access Coalition has also slammed the plans. In a statement, co-chairs Johnny Rich and Rae Tooth said they would “create an insurmountable barrier for some young people from underrepresented backgrounds who have the potential to succeed in higher education.”

“Minimum entry requirements and other blunt policies fail to account for the number of inequalities young people face in our education system before applying to university.”

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The plans, drawn up by the Department for Education, also seek to lower the repayment threshold for student loans. Labour has labelled them “another stealth tax for new graduates starting out” that will “hit those on low incomes hardest.” 

Graduates earning over £25,000 will have to start repayments, down from the previous salary of £27,295. The length of time over which grads must make repayments is also to be increased from 30 to 40 years. 

“Instead of focusing on supporting more students to succeed at school or widening access to university, the government is slamming the door on opportunity,” said MP Bridget Phillipson, shadow education secretary.

The proposals come as part of the government’s long-awaited response to the Augar review of higher education funding, which was published in 2019 and attacked so-called low-value higher education courses.

Tuition fees will also be frozen at a maximum of £9,250 for two more years.

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