A new academic study has found that the British student loan system reproduces inequalities due to the unspoken expectation that student loans will be supplemented by family income.
Lorenza Antonucci, a social policy and sociology lecturer at Teeside University, published the study in the book Student Lives in Crisis: Deepening Inequality in Times of Austerity, and stressed: “The grants have gone. The loans are not enough and they [the Student Loans Company] assume that families will contribute. But families don’t have the amount of money that the state assumes they have.”
The study, which examines the systems and experiences of students in England, Sweden and Italy, argues that Britain is producing a two-tiered system at university, where half of students live without the worry of needing a job whereas others struggle to balance paid work with their studies. The state’s expectations, Antonucci has further noted, does not just affect those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, as the tiered calculation loan system is hitting the “squeezed middle” as well.
With regards to the repercussions of the state’s expectations, Antonucci states that the assumption by the state that students’ families will supplement their income is resulting in an increasing demand on the welfare services. This argument comes not long after news that the demand for university mental health services has risen by 50% in the last five years.
The theory behind the study also correlates with recent calls from a consumer rights campaigner that there is not enough warning for parents as to the costs of sending their children to university. Martin Lewis, founder of moneysavingexpert.com, has written to the Department for Education to stress that, on average, parents are being expected to pay more than £5300 annually towards their child’s university education. Whilst the student loan system assumes a parental contribution, Mr Lewis argues that parents are not sufficiently prepared for the cost and this can leave students at university without financial support for some, if not all, of their degree.