A warning of hardship for English language students about the scale of the increase in financial support

Universities on Wednesday criticized the size of the government’s increase in student living support in England, calling it “disappointing” because it failed to keep pace with inflation.

The Department of Education announced that maintenance loans — the main source of government aid for undergraduate and graduate students — will increase in 2023-24 by 2.8 percent. It also said it would provide an additional £15m to “ease the stress of living” for students.

But experts said the increase in funding for maintenance loans has been insufficient against the backdrop of high inflation, and will add to the hardships faced by students already suffering from a cost-of-living crisis.

After rising by 2.8 per cent, undergraduates living outside London will receive a maintenance loan of up to £9,978 in the next academic year – for those in the capital, that rises to £13,022.

They will also benefit from new hardship support funds, in addition to the £261m already announced by the government. Tuition fees will remain frozen at £9,250 for the next two years, which was previously announced last spring.

However, with the price of goods rising rapidly, the increase in maintenance loan amounts to a real reduction. In November, the inflation rate was 10.7 percent, after falling from a 41-year high in October.

The research-intensive Russell Group of Universities said if funding for maintenance loans increased with inflation since 2020-21, the annual allowance for next year would be £11,500.

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, said it was “disappointing” that the government had failed “to address some of the flaws in the forecasting process to ensure it keeps up with rising costs”.

Tom Allingham, money expert at the advice site Save the Student, said the increase was a “devastating blow to struggling students” that would add to their “battle” with the cost of living.

Alimony loans are linked to inflation and are partly tested, with those claiming the full allowance required to declare household income.

However, the increase in loan support is calculated on the basis of projections by the Office for Budget Responsibility, a public body that monitors government finances. Over the past two years, inflation has exceeded the Office for Budget Responsibility’s expectations and the rise in maintenance loans.

The Bank of England estimates that inflation will stand between 5.2 and 5.9 percent in September, when students receive their loans.

Ben Waltman, an economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the announcement means that realistic student hardship support cuts from 2020-2021 will become “baked”.

Although the £15m payment was welcomed, the National Students’ Union said the maintenance loan increase was “grossly inadequate”.

“If maintenance support continues to lag behind inflation, the number of students in poverty will only increase,” said Chloe Field, Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales.

Robert Halfon, Minister for Higher Education, said the government recognized that “students continue to face financial challenges”.

“I urge anyone concerned about their condition to speak to their university,” he said.

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