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Spending Review: Why students are the biggest losers

Students will still get loans but have to pay back more money quicker. Credit: PA

The Department of Business Innovation and Skills has had its budget cut by 17%. Who loses? Students - specifically poorer students.

The decision to convert Maintenance grants for low-income families into loans was announced in July. Just under 600,000 students got a Maintenance grant last year.

The classes of 2016 onwards will still get financial support from government towards living costs at university.

In fact they'll have access to even more money, they'll just have to give it back, plus interest. This saves the government £2 billion.

The move is expected to save the government £680 million in the next five years. Credit: PA

Today, the Chancellor announced that the government will save a further £680 million over the next five years by squeezing English graduates with student loans taken out post-2012.

The earnings threshold above which those loans are repaid is to be frozen at £21,000 pa until April 2021 and the discount rate will be cut from 2.2% above inflation to 0.7%.

This is a lot less generous and by 2020 there will be 2.1 million graduates making higher monthly repayments sooner.

The student opportunity fund - which supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds attending university - is being cut in half (currently £385 billion year) with universities expected to pick up the slack.

The adult skills budget - which is channelled at further education colleges - is being cut by £360 million although the "core" element is being protected in cash terms.

Chancellor George Osborne delivering his Autumn Statement. Credit: PA

Broadly speaking, universities and further education colleges sound relieved. They were expecting much worse.

As far as businesses are concerned the large science budget has been protected, as has funding for Innovate UK, although some of its grants will be converted into loans.

That’s the sort of shenanigans that would ordinarily upset business lobby groups, but they are too preoccupied gawping at the size of the Apprenticeship Levy they're being asked to pay.

It's a big tax on bigger companies and will raise around £3 billion a year.

The CBI warns the cost of this tax will dent profits and "reduce the scope for pay increases".

Universities and colleges were expecting to be hit much worse. Credit: PA

The Chancellor also made a lot of what looked like a tax break for beleaguered steel companies - but turned out not to be.

Exemption from environmental tariffs (the Renewables Obligation and Feed-in tariffs) will save steel companies nothing because they were already receiving compensation from the government for the bills they paid.

It will however save the Department for Business £410 million a year.

The real winner is government, the real loser is us.

The government expects the cost to end up on energy bills at a cost of around £5 a year.

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