Students from Wales will get £1,000 more to help with the cost of living crisis while those in England get just £200 on average, as Labour MPs said inflation may force more students to drop out of university.
The Welsh government said maintenance loans and grants for its students would rise by 9.4% from September, with support for full-time students increasing from £10,710 to £11,720 on average. Students in England will get a rise of just 2.8% in the next academic year after the Westminster government’s announcement last week, with the average maintenance loan increasing by about £200.
A group of 40 Labour MPs and peers led by Mary Foy, the MP for Durham North, have written to the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, to call for maintenance loans to be increased to meet the estimated £1,500 shortfall that many students face.
“The failure to ensure maintenance loans in England keep pace with inflation risks causing an exodus of lower- and middle-income students from university if they cannot rely on the ‘Bank of Mam and Dad’ to make up the difference,” Foy said.
“University is a proven catalyst for social mobility and should allow people from any background to realise their aspirations. Yet with student rents reaching as much as £200 per week in my constituency, students are struggling to keep afloat despite many working part-time to boost their incomes.”
Jeremy Miles, the Welsh minister for education, said: “Living costs should never be a barrier to studying at university. Despite continuing budget pressures, I have ensured that the value of support is increased accordingly at this time of exceptional cost-of-living pressures.”
Orla Tarn, president of the National Union of Students Wales, said they were delighted the Welsh government had decided to “deviate from the pitiful 2.8% rise” being offered in England.
“Many students in Wales are not from Wales and still rely on the maintenance support offered by the other UK nations, which should follow Wales’ lead as soon as possible,” Tarn said.
Maintenance loans for England vary by household income and location, ranging from £3,400 to £12,600. Only a third of students qualify for maximum support living away from home outside London, worth £9,700. Research by the House of Commons library found that the average maintenance loan in 2020-21 was about £7,000 a year.
The joint letter to Keegan stated: “We urge the government to think again, and review the decision on uprating maintenance loans to fully reflect the genuine cost of living for students.”
A new survey of student costs by TechnologyOne, a higher education software provider, found that more than a third of UK students said the cost of living was the main reason they had considered dropping out of their course, with as many saying they had cut back spending on heating and basic groceries.
Defending the 2.8% increase, Robert Halfon, England’s minister for higher education, said: “We recognise students continue to face financial challenges, which is why we are increasing loans and grants for living and other costs for a further year.”
The Department for Education has also given an extra £15m to be distributed to university hardship funds.