Student loan proposals in England are cruel and punitive – Laura Waddell

Education should not be a game players only get one try at before they strike out (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)Education should not be a game players only get one try at before they strike out (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Education should not be a game players only get one try at before they strike out (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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Young people have had enough barriers placed in their way. Blocking student loans would make life harder for those already disadvantaged.

Proposals in England would link student loan eligibility to GCSE results, blocking those who fail English and maths from applying. Discouraging young people from pursuing further education if they stumble along the way is the most backwards idea I’ve heard in some time.

If enacted, banning some from accessing financial support would, quite simply, cut further education off for those who couldn’t afford it, an outcome that would most penalise students from low income backgrounds.

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It’s not surprising, but no less nauseating for that, that this suggestion is even being floated. Scotland is not impacted by the proposal, but it caught my eye as a striking example of how unequal the playing field can be for young people going out into the world.

The UK, a country already so demarcated by class lines, is taking such a mercenary, impatient attitude to developing its young. Corralling children down predetermined channels for an adulthood they haven’t yet had the chance to set foot in means writing some off before they’ve even started.

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Not to mention that education shouldn’t be a game players only get one try at before they strike out completely. As adults, we know life has ups and downs, nevermind for children not yet fully in control of their own life or environment.

Those with stressful or unstable living situations, who lack encouragement at home, or who suffer from ill health might struggle with exams at one stage, but with support to keep going, flourish later.

What this proposal highlights is that entry to further education is already dependent on access to funds. Loans are an imperfect system. Many kids from money-conscious, working-class backgrounds, now able to get to university by using loans to pay living expenses, begin their working lives in debt.

I went, with a loan, a grant, a part-time job, and free tuition, to the University of Glasgow to study English literature. I got the qualifications I needed to get into the course, but I still failed higher maths.

I had been reluctant to apply myself to a subject that didn’t come easily, unlike the social sciences I gravitated towards. Looking back from a longer vantage point, and some self-compassion, I see the pressures piled on top: the minimum wage jobs I did after class and at weekends to pay my own rent and bills, having moved out at age 17, untreated depression, and much else besides.

The proposal is cruel and punitive. It identifies students who would most benefit from additional support and cuts them off from it. It is a stay-in-your-lane, know-your-place condemnation of children already disadvantaged within the education system, who before they even leave high school, might be blocked from the funds they need to continue learning.

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Some children are given maps for taking their first steps into a comfortable and secure adult life, and are encouraged to roam over the land before them. Others are given a map with red crosses blocking off some of the roads.

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