by Dave Cocozza
8 July was a day that, like many others who watched the Budget, left me feeling extremely dejected. I had been expecting the announcement to scrap student maintenance grants for about a month beforehand, but I was never prepared for how I would feel after it actually happened.
Like many others I have studied with, spoken with, or campaigned with, I have relied on my grant to get my through University – alongside working up to three part-time jobs at a time, even doing the occasional random psychological experiment just to earn a fiver. The cost of living has been extremely high: my accommodation in my first year was almost £4,500 alone, leaving me with around £2,000 for the next academic year; and it’s been roughly the same throughout my degree. To put it mildly, it’s been a struggle – and those that are closest too me will know of it. I am forever grateful to the money given to me via the grant to be able to put me on at least some level playing field, regardless of how I have used my time in my education.
I’ve also battled various health problems – including a bout of depression that left me hitting rock bottom in March 2013, though I’ve never really talked about it with anyone. I didn’t want to accept the help and I was stuck in a horrible cycle of sleepless nights and drinking my way through it. It was my University counsellor, my student support officer, the University medical centre and my Student Union that helped me through it – they helped me realise I needed the help, and I genuinely don’t know if I would be in the same position without them.
Being able to attend university has given me a new purpose in life; a renewed focus. It’s taught me so much more than just the academic course I was enrolled to do. It’s given me the chance to be actively involved in politics, both in my local area and at a national level. All of these things have been rewarding and educating experiences.
However it’s because of these struggles, and the burden they’ve placed on my academic study, that I have become so convinced of the necessity to provide free education for all – something that is entirely possible given the great wealth in this country.
Educational maintenance grants are just one measure that have helped unlock the doors of higher education for many – they provide the opportunity for every student to start on a near-equal footing.
But this government has perniciously just swiped away that opportunity, and is going to destroy the aspirations of future generations.
Under the new proposals, those who come from the poorest backgrounds are going to graduate with the highest debt. £50,000 was already a hefty whack to pay back. £10,000 more has just made it a whole lot harder for poorer students. It’s another financial and psychological barrier to have to overcome.
But, we can change this.
If we stand together in a fight against this assault on our higher education then we have a high chance of being successful. The scrapping of student grants has already been reversed once, and we can do it again.
Please don’t allow this government to force even more debt onto students; education should be available to all that have the aspirations to succeed, not just for those that can afford it.
Please don’t allow this government to continue to drive down adult learning and continue their assault on our universities.
That’s why, alongside leading educational groups, the Green Party has launched the ‘#KeepTheGrants‘ campaign – our quest to partner with various groups, individuals and political parties across the UK to stand in solidarity and lobby this government, together, to scrap their proposals to convert student grants into additional student loans, forcing even more debt onto graduates.
My story isn’t unique. The grant is something almost half a million students each year have access to. To see it taken away is something the Green Party simply won’t stand by and allow to happen.
There are a thousand reasons, with many personal stories, as to why we need to keep the grants – and if you follow the campaign on Twitter and Facebook, and add your name to the petition, then you’ll be able to keep up with them and submit your own.
The success of our fight against the policy will be determined by how loudly our voices can go – we need to lobby our local MPs to take a stand against the policy, hold protests alongside the NUS and other campaign groups and much more to send a clear message to parliament.
That message is very clear. Keep the grants – they are an important lifeline for many.
Dave Cocozza is the Green Party’s Spokesperson for Higher and Further Education and is leading the Greens’ #KeepTheGrants campaign
Follow Dave Cocozza on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DaveCocozza.