Thousands Miss Out On Student Grants

(Telegraph) – SOME 50,000 STUDENTS missed out on grants this year following the introduction of “punitive” charges for middle-class families and a collapse in the system used to process applications.

Some 44 per cent of undergraduates starting university for the first time in September have received no help from the taxpayer, it was disclosed.

The number of students without a grant climbed dramatically from just three-in-10 a year earlier, according to figures.

The increase followed a controversial shake-up of university finance imposed by the Government.

Previously, teenagers with parents earning £60,000 were able to get a partial grant, but that cut-off point was slashed to £50,000 following the miscalculation.

According to figures from the Student Loans Company (SLC), fewer students were also awarded partial or full grants.

The Conservatives said the drop in the amount of financial help was fuelled by the “collapse” of the system used by the SLC to distribute funding.

An analysis from the Tories found that at least 17,000 additional students lost out when the family income cap was cut while 33,000 suffered due to errors with their applications.

As reported previously, thousands of students faced delays receiving grants and loans following a series of errors by officials last year. This included a failure to answer phone calls on time.

On Wednesday, the SLC said it was making 150 staff redundant and moving another 45 from Glasgow to an office in Darlington.

In a statement, it said the move was aimed at “delivering an improved customer experience and allows for a reduction in resources within the company”.

David Willetts, the Conservative shadow universities secretary, said: “The situation at the Student Loans Company just keeps going from bad to worse.

“At a time when many hardworking families are struggling to stay afloat, it is particularly worrying to learn that students from less wealthy backgrounds have been hit hardest of all.

“The Government’s new processing system collapsed as soon as it was launched, but even after an independent inquiry Ministers still won’t accept responsibility or take action to resolve the problems.

“Top executives have been promoted while hundreds of junior staff are being sacked. We can’t go on like this. Students are right to have lost confidence in this Government.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Today’s figures mean more misery for the thousands of students hit by punitive changes to the grant system and for their parents who are struggling to get by and support their offspring in these tough economic times.

“We were particularly alarmed by the sharp drop in the number of students awarded a full grant.”

According to provisional figures from the SLC, 44 per cent of students starting university in the autumn did not get a grant, compared with 30 per cent in 2008.

This equated to almost 137,000 students, against 87,000 a year earlier, although raw numbers are skewed by an overall rise in students starting university for the first time.

Some 22 per cent of students were awarded a partial grant, compared with 29 per cent a year earlier.

And 35 per cent of students gained a full grant, against 41 per cent in 2008.

It is feared the drop in the number of grants may fuel the size of debts faced by undergraduates. It is estimated that students already face owing £20,000 by the time they finish university.

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