At the Conservative party conference, Jo Johnson, the Tory universities minister, spoke out at criticism that students are running out of money during university and struggling to make rising living costs. He argued that students who are “focusing on their studies […] live modestly and have a frugal existence” manage to get by.
The conference, located in Manchester, began with the announcement that the government is now pledging to freeze tuition fees at £9,250 a year. This will be achieved by increasing the threshold for repayments from £21,000 to £25,000.
Following Labour’s triumph with the young population during the general election in June, with Jeremy Corbyn promising to abolish university fees altogether, the Conservative party has been attempting to win back support from young people. While Theresa May, UK Prime Minister, has promised a “review” on university costs, Johnson’s comments about student spending have done nothing but to undermine any attempt to win back young voters.
What is Jo Johnson on? Telling students to make ends meet 'living frugally'. A fine lecture from #OutoftouchTory Eton & Oxford educated toff
— Steve Bassam (@SteveTheQuip) October 3, 2017
Martin Lewis, a consumer finance expert has highlighted the living costs issue, stating that “loans aren’t big enough”. After means-testing, many student’s maintenance loans are reduced to £5,000.
Labour MP and former President of the National Union of Students, Wes Streeting, alleges that:
“Too many students are now struggling to make ends meet on student loans alone and, even where they can find part-time work, students from the poorest backgrounds have less time to spend on their course because they’re spending too much time stacking shelves or pulling pints. […] Instead of tinkering around the edges with tuition fees, the Tories should re-introduce non-repayable grants for the poorest students, which they so callously scrapped.”
Johnson, however, stands by his comments that it is the lifestyle choice of students that results in a need to “work as many, many students do” or simply to “save” to “fill that gap” between government loans and living costs. Johnson argues that:
“What is also so important to bear in mind is that students have many different choices about the kind of lifestyle they want at university. Some students want to live very modestly and have a frugal existence, focusing on their studies. Other students may want a different lifestyle but there isn’t one cost of going to university, it’s a very specific choice that each student must make.”