Majority want maintenance grants reintroduced for poorest students – poll

More than half of Britons want maintenance grants to be reintroduced for the poorest university students, a survey suggests.

A poll for the Sutton Trust charity found 87% of Britons agree that the Government should provide financial support for students from low-income households while at university.

The survey, of more than 2,000 adults in England, Scotland and Wales, found the majority (53%) want to see maintenance grants for students from low-income households reinstated.

Maintenance grants for disadvantaged students in England were replaced in 2016 by loans which have to be paid back.

In a report, published alongside the poll, the charity has said restoring maintenance grants for the poorest students – who graduate with the highest debt – would remove an access barrier and “make the system fairer”.

Student maintenance levels have “lagged far behind” inflation in recent years, meaning essential costs are higher than the maximum loan for most students, the Sutton Trust said.

The poll, carried out by More in Common in February, found that 52% of the public think access to pre-school or nursery should be free like school.

A further 31% felt this provision, though not completely free, should be affordable enough that the majority of children can attend.

More than four in five (83%) adults who were surveyed said they believed the gap between social classes in Britain today is either quite big or very big, with 44% believing it is bigger now than 50 years ago.

The majority said children from richer families get better opportunities in school and universities (62%), in pre-school education (59%) and in jobs (54%).

A lack of job opportunities in the local area (30%) and access to good education (29%), as well as poor work ethic (29%), were seen as the biggest barriers to success in life by survey respondents.

The majority believe it is the Government’s role to ensure fair access to educational (81%) and job opportunities (69%), according to the survey.

The Sutton Trust has called for the next government to prioritise policies that will improve opportunities for young people and boost social mobility.

The priorities should be equalising access to early years education, closing the attainment gap in schools between disadvantaged pupils and their peers and increasing financial support for students, with maintenance grants reintroduced for those from low-income families, the charity has said.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said: “For too long, successive governments have failed to increase opportunities for low- and moderate-income young people.

“As a result, there is a yawning gap in attainment between the well-off and their less affluent peers, which is the main reason we have low and declining social mobility in this country.

“The public clearly wants this to change and the next government needs to get on board and make it happen.

“Otherwise, the gap between the haves and the have-nots will continue to widen, wasting the talent of so many young people and threatening the country’s future prosperity.”