On the same day that news broke that staff at the University of Birmingham are protesting the obscene pay of their vice-chancellor, I opened an email asking for donations to a food bank that my university, Birmingham City, has started for students. This Dickensian contrast in fortunes demonstrates the widening problems of inequality in universities since fees have been introduced.
I have seen firsthand how hard some of our students struggle to make ends meet so I understand why the university offers emergency food services. I’m sure we are likely not alone. The initiative was started by those on the frontline of student support and is a valuable effort to provide help in a broken system. The very fact that staff have had to reach out for food charity demonstrates the failure of higher education “reforms” to provide for those that need it most.
When my sister went to university, tuition was free and there was a generous maintenance grant. When I went a few years later, my fees were minimal and the grant was still intact for the students who needed it. I now teach in a sector that charges some of the highest fees in the world, and the maintenance grant has been replaced by a loan, with an interest rate far higher than that of most mortgages. It is chilling to think what future generations of students will have to overcome in order to participate in higher education.
There is no claim upon cashflow either or interest or capital repayment until graduation. Thus the existence of the loan and or the interest rate make no difference at all to student lifestyles while at university.