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UK student support in 2015-16 (Scotland tbc)

January 14, 2015

At the time of writing, the student support figures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland for 2015-16 are available, while those for Scotland are still to be announced.

England, Northern Ireland and Wales

Main points

  • In all three countries, grant thresholds and maximum grant rates will be frozen in 2015-16.
  • Loans will be frozen in Northern Ireland.
  • Living cost loans will rise in England and in Wales, so that total support for the poorest students will rise by 2.5% and 2.2% respectively.
  • Total living cost support (ie loan plus grant) remains highest in Wales, where the maximum, available to those at the lowest incomes, is now just below £8,000 a year.
  • Thresholds for maximum grant (and maximum total support) and for the point at which grant runs out will have been frozen for at least three years in all three countries.

The table further down contains figures for grant and loan next year.

Scotland

In Scotland this year (2014-15) grants and thresholds have been frozen since last year, after cuts to both in 2013-14.

The announcement of 2015-16 figures will now be relatively late (as this post explains).  It is very unusual for students and prospective students not to have this information by Christmas.

The Scottish Government’s draft budget published last autumn  (linked here) contained this promise to:

continue to deliver on our commitment to support the poorest students with a minimum income guarantee of £7,500 per year in maintenance support and to keeping higher education free for Scottish domiciled students

That appears to imply a  freeze in total support at the same level as in 2014-15.

In its submission on the draft budget (linked here) NUS Scotland argued that:

For students in higher education, we need to see continued increases in support as a whole, and for the poorest students particularly we need to see that through grants rather than loans.

The delay may reflect some sort of discussions continuing behind the scenes (that would explain NUS’s lack of public complaint about the absence of information), or  new Ministers taking the chance to take stock more generally.  The draft budget (again, see here)  left no obvious room to increase grants, given that it included a small reduction in the combined funding for fees and grants – and fee costs are surely due to rise further, with rising numbers of students seeming likely to be entitled, from Scotland and the EU.  Meeting NUS’s request would be difficult, even if the government is sympathetic.

A complicating factor may be that the NUS is also lobbying for increased investment in grants for FE students, who are dealt with under separate arrangements.

Figures in comparison

The table below  shows the position for those at the lowest incomes, entitled to the maximum amount of grant and largest amount of support.  Some students at higher incomes will be entitled to more loan, but less overall support, because they get less or no grant.

The income thresholds for maximum support next year will be unchanged: £16,999 (Scotland); £18,370 (Wales; £19,203 (Northern Ireland); and £25,000 (England).

The table compares grants and loans, and the combined total of these,  in 2015-16. The loan and total figures are for students living away from home outside London: for students from England, Northern Ireland and Wales lower figures apply to students who live at home, and higher ones to those who study away from home in London.   Scotland currently applies the same figures to all students. Grants are unaffected by where students study or live.

The table includes for comparison indicative figures showing the position for Scotland if, as the draft budget implies, the 2014-15 arrangements are repeated in 2015-16 but these Scottish figures should not to be relied on. 

A B A+B
Max grant Loan at lowest incomes Max total (grant plus loan)
£ £ £
England          3,387            4,047          7,434
Northern Ireland          3,475            2,953          6,428
Scotland (est) Young          1,750            5,750          7,500
(if 2015-16 = 2014-15) Mature              750            6,750          7,500
Wales          5,161            2,796          7,957

Sources: Official student finance on-line calculators for England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Two separate posts, to follow,  give further context.

The first will look at how total maximum support has changed across the UK over the past decade and, within that, what has happened with grant and loan.  This shows that grant rates have been gradually frozen, and more rarely cut, at different points in recent years.  Unless Scotland increases grants, these will have been frozen in all parts of the UK for 2015-16: since 2012-13 in Wales, 2013-14 in Scotland, 2014-15 in England and, in the longest case, since 2010-11 in Northern Ireland.   Total support will have risen in real terms over the five years to 2015-16 in all parts of the UK except Northern Ireland, where it will have fallen.

The second will look at the even more complex way in which thresholds for grants have become frozen over time. By 2015-16,  these will  have been frozen since at least 2013-14 in every part of the UK, and sometimes rather longer, again unless Scotland announces any change.  Scotland is the only country to have reduced the cash value of thresholds in recent years.  There may therefore be behind the scenes pressure on the Scottish Government to reverse this, but there has been no public campaigning.

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