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Giving All First-in-Family UK Students a Year’s Free Tuition is a Bad Idea - Here’s Why

Giving All First-in-Family UK Students a Year’s Free Tuition is a Bad Idea - Here’s Why main image

A recent report by the UK’s Higher Education Policy Institute recommends that the UK Government introduce a ‘First in Family Allowance’ which will make any potential UK student whose parents did not attend university eligible for a year’s free tuition.

The report states that  “the level of parental education is a major influence on educational progression, with parents often more concerned about tuition fees and graduate debt than the prospective students” and that “first-in-family students are more likely to have overlaps with family background and income-type measures of disadvantage, such as income deprivation, living in a single income household and lower socio-economic status.”

Whilst I largely agree with this statement, I don’t believe that offering every student whose parents did not attend university the option of a year’s free tuition is the most effective way of encouraging a greater number of students from low income backgrounds to attend university.

Here’s why…

The scheme should focus on students from low income backgrounds

Firstly, I think that if a scheme is going to be introduced to “overcome a barrier” to students from low income backgrounds who wish to attend university, that the scheme should exclusively target students from a low-income background.

It’s unreasonable to assume that the majority of students whose parents didn’t attend university are from a low-income background. For many, it may just be that for some households it just wasn’t the ‘done’ thing, or that their jobs at the time simply didn’t require a degree like so many do now.

The fact that students who come from some of the highest income households in the country would be eligible for the same year’s free tuition as someone from a very low-income background is a ludicrous thought. Surely the money would be better used to help students who genuinely need the financial help – e.g. used for extending grants or scholarships available.

Reducing the debt by £9,250 isn’t enough to make a difference

For a standard three-year course, UK students studying in a UK university will be graduating with an average tuition fee debt of £27,750 plus interest (based on the maximum tuition fee cost of £9,250 per year).

Reducing this by a single year’s tuition will still leave students with an £18,500 debt, which, despite being significantly lower, is unlikely ease the minds of individuals who are concerned about the level of debt attached to attending university. This is before taking into account the debt of maintenance loans.

If the high level of debt is the reason students from low income backgrounds are choosing not to attend university, this slight reduction in tuition fees is unlikely to play a substantial part in this decision.

It is also worth noting that not many graduates end up repaying their full student loan – a report from the IFS in November 2019 estimated that “less than one fifth of graduates are forecast to repay their student loans in full”.

Whichever way you look at this – attending university will result in large amounts of debt for graduates regardless of whether or not the first year’s tuition is paid for.

The money should be used in other ways

This money could be put to better use, for example, re-introducing maintenance grants for students from low income backgrounds. Maintenance grants were discontinued in August 2016 in favour of maintenance loans.

Reinstating these grants or extending the value of maintenance loan available to students from low income backgrounds, in my opinion, would be a much better use of resources, as it is reasonable to assume that these student’s families would be less likely to be able to support this cost. Extending this loan or offering an additional grant would make living as a student from a low-income background much more affordable.

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Written by Chloe Lane
A Content Writer for TopUniversities.com, Chloe has a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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