The government will today push through its plans to replace student maintenance grants with loans via a Third Delegated Legislation Committee with a Tory majority, rather than a Commons debate and vote.
The move has been called ‘outrageous’ by the opposition, who not only oppose the abolition of maintenance grants but the lack of scrutiny in the process.
The House of Lords may be able to block the move if they call for a motion to debate the changes, but otherwise the plans will become law.
Labour MP Wes Streeting, the former National Union of Students President who has been appointed on to the committee has said: “It is shocking that something as significant as abolishing student grants is being done through delegated legislation in the hope that people won’t notice it. It is part of a worrying pattern of behaviour of this government because their majority is so small.
“It means the committee is stacked in the government’s favour so they don’t have to worry about the inconvenience of getting MPs to turn up and they don’t actually have to vote on the substance of the proposals, just on whether the issue has been heard.
“When they tripled tuition fees one of the ways they claimed it would be fairer was they would increase grants for the poorest students. That pledge has now unravelled”
Shadow Universities minister Gordon Marsden added: “It will leave them [students] having to take out loans as a leap in the dark.
“It has been done without consultation, with warning signs already being flagged up by the department’s own equality assessment and wholly without the detailed and proper parliamentary scrutiny such a step-change demands.”
A government spokesman said the process of using a committee of MPs to scrutinise the proposals is a process approved by parliament under the Teaching and Higher Education Act of 1998.
A Department for Business spokesman said: “Everyone with the potential to benefit from higher education should have the opportunity to do so, and our policy means that a lack of finance should not be a barrier to participation. Our changes will increase the overall living costs support we provide to students, and this will not have to be paid back until students are earning over £21,000.”
Currently students from families earning £25,000 or less are entitled to a grant of £3,387 a year to cover living costs, with students from higher earning families receiving less, up to the threshold of £42,620 at which points the grants stop.
The proposed changes will mean that as of September, students from lower income families will receive a larger loan of £8200, but this will all have to be repaid once the student starts earning over £21,000.
George Osborne first proposed the changes back in July last year, leading to thousands of protesting outside Parliament on November.