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30 week maintenance support

February 28, 2017

After my blog last week on living costs while studying full-time, a tweet by Gavan Conlon reminded me to look at the relevant Diamond Review recommendations for Welsh HE (and Welsh students in RUK).

That report proposed combined maintenance grant and loan support to a maximum of £8100 per year for a full-time student studying away from home outside London on top of up to £9000 in tuition fee loans.

The split between loan and grant would be means-tested against parental household income as per the chart below.

welsh-loan-grant

Those studying in London would be able to access 25% more – up to £10, 125 – while those living at home would be eligible for £6885.

These maximum figures are less than the loan-only amounts available to English-domiciled students who started in 2016/17 who can access £8200 (away from home outside of London), £10,700 (in London) and £6904 (at home).

The Diamond recommendation though would consider indexing these figures to the National Living Wage – currently £7.20 ph.

And presents its rationale clearly: the maintenance support available is calculated at NLW with full-time study considered to be the equivalent of 37.5 hours per week over the course of three 10-week terms (37.5 * 30 *£7.20 = £8100). Those staying at home get 15% less and those going to London get 25% more.

This is welcome clarity. But there seem to be a some obvious questions:

Is it the case that undergraduate students are expected not to study over the winter and spring breaks? Are assignment deadlines for early January or late April a thing of the past? Wouldn’t most lecturers expect exam performance or the quality of extended essays and dissertations to improve if students aren’t working full-time at every holiday?

More importantly, many students sign rental contracts for university accommodation that run over 40 weeks, not 30. See UCL rent strike pages for an example. There we see £8000 accommodation charges that don’t leave much left of that £10,125 or £10,700.

It strikes me that those points represent a set of good reasons for increasing full-time maintenance support to 40 weeks: so we need another 1/3rd added to the amounts given above. (This 30-week level of maintenance support leaves bigger questions for accelerated degrees given that students won’t have the summer for earning).

A final point, the Diamond review also recommended that students receive maintenance support monthly. But if universities are also asking for the term’s rent upfront this is likely to create cash shortfalls which may drive students to commercial debt.

Update – 1 March 2017

David Malcolm has alerted me to Student Finance England’s regulations on ‘long course loans’, which mean my comments on accelerated courses need correction.

For each extra week of study beyond 30 and up to 45, a full-time student can receive an additional weekly amount of maintenance loan.

In 2016/17, if parental household income is below £39,796 per year then the student is entitled to an extra £57 per week for living at home, £88 pw away from home outside London, and £113 away from home in London.  This would seem to imply that SFE thinks rents outside London are £31 per week and that you can find accommodation in the capital for £56 pw!

A worked example in the SFE guidelines for 2016/17 shows that this ‘long course’ amount drops quite quickly depending on household income. A student on a 37 week course coming from a household income of £45 000 and living away from home outside London would only receive an extra £36 in total for their extra 7 weeks. Coming from a household that’s only £5000 a year better off means that they don’t get anything like £616 (7 weeks * £88 pw). Here, the assumption seems to be that the parental contribution will make up the difference.

This would suggest that accelerated courses are not going to work in London and that the long course loan needs rethinking in relation to the ‘parental contribution’ thresholds. Two-year courses may not end up cheaper for the individual if they need to access commercial debt to cover the additional weeks they are studying full-time.

 

 

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