Having recently traversed the student finance application I am admittedly at odds with Student Finance England. Are the obstacles that I, and thousands of others, face every year well placed deterrents or merely the symptom of a system in chaos? Student finance applications are not an issue if one is accustomed to giving detailed financial information, but for those who aren’t in such a position the process could be recipe for a healthy dose of sleep deprivation. They are a long, exhaustive and invasive process. Especially, it seems, if you don’t come from a nuclear family and your parents or guardians don’t work standard nine to five jobs. From personal experience, having a parent who is self-employed lead to a complete nightmare; what is meant to be an easy online process turned into a marathon relay of phone calls, technical difficulties and copious financial forms sent and subsequently lost by Student Finance England.
The fact that a valid passport is required is a particularly obvious sign that the finance system has inbuilt deterrents for lower income students. Multitudes of sixth formers don’t possess a passport, an expensive document for many across Britain, the alternative for these students is to find professional sponsors to sign off on their forms, again not always an easy task.
Lower income pupils are increasingly under-represented in universities across Britain no thanks to the £9250 per annum fees, a bitter pill to swallow for students whose parents may earn little over this a year. To then be faced with the marathon of the application process is enough for many to reconsider and choose alternative routes. So much for our meritocratic education system. With the rapidly decreasing rates of university applications, shouldn’t there be support for lower income pupils to cross this financial crevasse?
To add insult to injury on completing the application there is no indication of the amount support you will receive. The tuition fees are happily thrown at every applicant but the maintenance loan is another question. The online calculator provided should be taken with several kilograms of salt and many students find they are given far less than expected. It would seem the maintenance loan allocation is almost as nonsensical as a job seekers allowance assessment, and awarding the minimum amount is evidently the default position.
Perplexingly they do not endeavour to give the amount one is entitled to according to household income and require repeated proof of poverty which is both undignified and anxiety provoking.
I witnessed this with friends who should have received the full loan, but due to complications with one parent being unable to provide sufficient financial information they were left to struggle through with the minimum maintenance loan.
A perfect example of a lower income student being left dejected and demeaned by the student finance application. Although Student Finance England, would obviously never admit to intentionally making it difficult for lower income students, as it would be a clear case of discrimination, there are elements that do make it very hard for such pupils and there does not seem to be any signs of remission.
The system is flawed and whether intentional or not, it does and will deter lower income students entering the university system and that is a tragedy for British education.
Image: Josh Green