Mum’s drive to bring back student grants

Tracey Farrimond and daughter Lucy
Tracey Farrimond and daughter Lucy

A Wigan mum has set up an online petition calling for a level playing field for English students trying to finance going to university.

Tracey Farrimond, from Standish, was so unhappy that grants for English undergraduates have been axed that she started a campaign calling on the Government to restore them.

Tracey, of Deben Close, was shocked to discover how much student financing had changed since her elder daughter Emily went to university when she started attending open days with her younger daughter Lucy.

She is now hoping to raise awareness of the mountain of debt young people leaving university will face and the uphill struggle English students have to finance their education compared to their peers in the other home nations and across Europe.

Tracey, 48, said: “When Emily went to university we could apply for grants, but Lucy has been looking round the unis and conservatoires and at one of the open day talks they said grant funding has been withdrawn for English students.

“You used to be able to get grants for part of it, but now the tuition fees of £9,000 per year need to be repaid and the means-tested maintenance grants and loans have all gone.

“You may be eligible for a loan of up to £6,905 for living expenses per year but all of it is repayable.

“That means for an English student you are talking £20,000 worth of debt for every year of the degree.

“The really galling thing is that in Scotland there are no uni fees for Scottish pupils and the rest of the EU pay £1,280 per year, but it’s £9,000 a year for English students. To me that’s discrimination because we’re in the EU. If you’re in Wales you can still get grants towards fees and maintenance costs too.

“I just don’t think we’re giving our students level playing field and I don’t think it’s right.

“I also feel the changes were pushed quietly through the back door without major debate. We would have been extremely interested in this with a daughter looking to go to university, it would have been high on our agenda.”

Tracey says with some universities and conservatoires such as the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) charging more than £6,000 per year for accommodation prospective students such as Lucy, who currently goes to Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, will have to take out further repayable loans or rely on family support to make ends meet during their degrees.

She believes that English students doing a three-year course will be £15,000 worse off when they graduate than their compatriots elsewhere in the UK who are eligible for non-repayable grants.

Tracey’s first target for the petition is to reach the 10,000 signatures required for the Government to respond to it. If the campaign reaches 100,000 signatures then the matter will be considered for a debate in Parliament.

She is hoping that, with both her and daughter Emily working in education, the issue will gain support from concerned teachers across the region as well as parents.

She admits this is the first time she has used the official Westminster petition website to campaign on an issue but says she is very concerned students from towns such as Wigan are being priced out of higher education.

She said: “I’ve never done anything like this before. You can just moan about something which affects you and is a detrimental change or you can do something about it. I decided I would have a go. If something happens that’s brilliant, if not at least I’ve tried.

“I just think it’s grossly unfair that English students are looking at £50,000 debts when the rest of the UK are not. How is that supporting equal access to education for children from a variety of backgrounds?

“Unless you’ve got a massive pot of funding behind you it’s going to be incredibly difficult for children even from average working class backgrounds to go to uni and the ones that do are going to be living with massive debts behind them.

“We’re finding the repayable funding you can get doesn’t cover living costs and families from poorer backgrounds aren’t going to be able to support their own children.

“ If you’re under 25 you also can’t apply for funding from the council. It’s just not a level playing field at all.”

To find out more or sign Tracey’s petition, visit https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/128740