Guest blog: Sally Hunt – Grandparents picking up more of students’ university costs

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The number of grandparents who contribute to the cost of their grandchildren’s university education is expected to rocket in the next decade, says study from International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK) today. [1]

While 3% of grandparents have already contributed to the cost of their grandchildren’s university experience, the percentage is expected to shoot up to 13% over the next 10 years. The majority of grandparents said they would dip into savings to support their grandchildren and a small number said they would use investments or property wealth.

It is perhaps unsurprising that grandparents want to do what they can to help their grandchildren, but should it really be their responsibility? It’s easy to see where the concern over how their grandchildren will survive at university comes from.

The high cost of living for students was highlighted in a report last week that showed the gap between income and expenditure for a typical student amounts to almost £8,000 a year. [2]

Earlier this year the chancellor announced that he was slashing funding for the National Scholarship Programme, which was set up to specifically provide support for students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds to apply to university through financial aid or a reduction in fees.

He doubled that whammy with the news that he was freezing student grants at a time when rents, bills, travel and other vital outgoings continue to rise above the rate of inflation. [3]

More recent news does not suggest things are going to get any easier either though. Just yesterday, the vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford suggested fees at his institution should be around £16,000 a year; £7,000 more than the current price. [4]

Some may argue that Professor Hamilton needed to raise the controversial spectre of university fees after all three major parties refused to mention them at their party conferences last month. However, higher university fees are not what this country needs.

Professor Hamilton was correct to say our universities need more funding – we invest just 1.4% of GDP on higher education, compared to an international average of 1.7%. However, he was wrong to argue that students, their parents and now, increasingly, their grandparents should pick up tab when we already have the most expensive fees in Europe.

The government says it is sticking to tough austerity measures because it doesn’t want to saddle our children with the debts we refused to clear. However, our university students will be saddled with debt when they graduate, and their parents and grandparents are using their savings to try and lighten the burden.

Students without parents and grandparents who can afford to help them out will find life at university even tougher. The government needs to ease the financial hardship faced by so many students to ensure more people have the chance to realise their full potential.

Sally Hunt, General Secretary, University and College Union





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