Cambridge MP, Julian Huppert has teamed up with Anglia Ruskin Students’ Union to launch a campaign to raise the maintenance loan for Cambridge students.
Under the current system, students in London receive a higher maintenance loan than students across the rest of the UK, reflecting the higher cost of living in the capital.
Speaking to universities Minister, Greg Clark, the Liberal Democrat claimed: “Students come from across the country to study at our two excellent universities, and the cost of living in Cambridge for those moving from far cheaper areas can be a real shock.”
He warned: “I don’t want to imagine that anyone would be forced to turn down a place at one of our great universities because they couldn’t afford the cost of living in Cambridge.”
Mr Clark responded that decisions over tuition fees and maintenance grants would be taken on an annual basis, but confirmed that there would be no change in this year’s maintenance grant other than inflation-based increases.
Julie Walking, director of student services at Anglia Ruskin University backed the campaign, telling Cambridge News: “With the cost of living as high in many areas of the south and east of England as it is in parts of London – in particular due to the high price of rental accommodation – the current situation leaves many of our students struggling to balance their budgets.”
Julian Huppert voted against the Coalition government’s decision to triple tuition fees in 2010, although in a recent tweet, he indicated his opposition to a future Labour government’s plans to cut tuition fees by one third, arguing instead that “what’s needed is help with cost of living, not cuts for rich graduates.”
In a press release outlining his campaign, the Lib Dem MP defended the record of the Coalition government, arguing: “We have done a great deal in this government to encourage students from poorer backgrounds to go to university with our bursaries and scholarships programmes. As a result, student numbers are at record levels and we can be proud of that.”
However, Labour’s parliamentary candidate in Cambridge, Daniel Zeichner, urged caution, telling The Cambridge Student: “In 2010 Nick Clegg came to Cambridge to be photographed with Julian Huppert to launch their promise to scrap tuition fees. So anything the Lib Dems say ahead of an election should be treated with caution.”
Outlining Labour’s plans, he added: “Labour will cut tuition fees to £6000 and increase student grants by £400, benefitting all students with a household income up to £42,620.
Cambridge Universities Labour Club issued the following statement to TCS: “Without a doubt, many students struggle in light of the high cost of living in Cambridge. However, there are valid concerns that allowing students to borrow more will cause the already steep Cambridge rent prices to rise further, which would have a negative impact on both students and other city residents.”
They added: “A better solution would be to push for a higher living wage rate and to ensure that bursaries and other university-based methods of financial support are on hand to assist those students most in need.”
One student from Girton commented: "I think in principle, having higher maintenance loans is not a bad idea as I know people struggle living in Cambridge. However, it seems a bit arbitrary just making it for Cambridge and London. Lots of other places in the South are very expensive to live."
They also added: "Creating a higher maintenance loan ultimately just means students being in greater debt."
Student fees and the cost of living are likely to be key issues for student voters in Cambridge as the general election approaches. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats will seek to court the student vote after recent constituency polling indicated a margin of less than one per cent between the two parties.