How to Cheat the System – Playing the Game of Student Finance England

Backbencher September 18, 2013 14
How to Cheat the System – Playing the Game of Student Finance England

Lizzie Roberts exposes serious issues with Higher Education caused by Student Finance England.

Student Finance England (SFE) is designed to give all students the opportunity to embark on higher education, with the support of government finance in the form of a maintenance loan. The sum each student receives however varies greatly and is dependent on a number of factors: their parent’s income, their geographical location and also where they are going to study.

However, after having just completed my first year at university, I have begun to see loopholes in the way that the system grants these loans. Whilst It is intended to adequately support all students during their time at university or college, evidence suggests that some students have begun to ‘play the game’ of SFE – finding ways around the system. On the other hand, others have been let down by its inefficiency to assess how much they should receive.

SFE’s online guidance pertaining to how they evaluate students for loans states that “The lower the household income, the more Maintenance Grant you will be entitled to.” However, the process of assessing students in order to allocate the grants is not sufficient. The application procedure is relatively simple, especially compared to the processes of gaining a bank loan; the student is required to fill out a series of questions in an online form, in which they must declare amongst other information: where they previously studied, where they are going to study, how much they have earned that year, whether they will be living at home and crucially, though this not compulsory, their parental income.

So, how have people begun to cheat the system? Take for example ‘student X’. They may live in a single parent home and state they are dependent on that one parent, whilst at the same time the other is still providing financial support.  This does not have to be declared on their application.  As the guide also states “if your parents are separated or divorced, Student Finance England will take the income of whichever parent you are financially dependent on. They will ignore the income of the other.”  I have seen cases where students declare they live with a single parent, are therefore given the maximum loan, but in reality their other parent is providing them with adequate support. When I asked the student why they took the loan if their other parent was able to support them, they responded “because it’s free money.” However, what a lot of students seem to be forgetting about SFE is that this is a loan system and it needs to be paid back. Therefore, this implies that you can cheat the system via changing your legal guardian to, or going to live with, the parent who has less income, in return giving you more maintenance loan, whilst still being subsidised by the wealthier parent.

When I asked the student why they took the loan if their other parent was able to support them, they responded “because it’s free money.”

Whilst some students are taking money they do not need, others are not sufficiently benefited by SFE. From my own personal experience, the government body does not adequately support me or those from a similar background at university. My family home is in the Northern Home Counties, my parents are married and they have full time jobs above the minimum wage. The total amount I am given as a maintenance loan is £3,575 a year, the minimum amount you can receive as I did not declare my household income, yet last year my accommodation alone cost £4,508. Therefore, this left me in a position with no money for other living costs, which is what the loan is designed to cater for. I am lucky in the fact that my parents are in the position where they are able to support me throughout my university life. However, not everyone is in the same position.

There is evidence of people caught in a gap through not qualifying a sufficient maintenance loan and not having parents who are able to support them financially at university. In November 2012, The Guardian reported that the “University and College Admissions Service…concluded that there was evidence of a sharper fall in application rates for young people from wealthier backgrounds, compared with poorer teenagers.” Though this can primarily be put down to the rise in tuition fees, it cannot be denied that if all SFE loans were to cover accommodation costs as a minimum, university applications may be higher. A form of reverse discrimination has come about through the system, where some students, not primarily from poor backgrounds, are unable to attend university as it is not economically viable for them.

A form of reverse discrimination has come about through the system, where some students, not primarily from poor backgrounds, are unable to attend university as it is not economically viable for them.

Student Finance England seems to follow a philosophy of “one rule for one and one for another”, but in terms of financial support to aid a young person’s education, there should be more rigorous assessment to make it a level playing field. It is all too easy for some students to sidestep the system, whilst others are discouraged from attending university due to the costs. Pupils applying to higher education institutions are playing the game of Student Finance by weaving around the loopholes to gain large loans, whilst at the same time still being supported by other financial means. It is the responsibility of the government to overhaul the system to make it an effective, fair and working loan system for all students, from all backgrounds. It can be questioned whether the Government is using Student Finance England as a political tool, taking the popular stance of supporting low income families through giving them substantial financial support at university. However, is this to the detriment of the squeezed middle?

 

Lizzie is a second year History and Politics student at Lancaster University, with a strong passion for American politics, equality and good old British sarcasm.

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  • Grace Connelly

    I am personally one of these ‘Squeezed middle’ students and can honestly say I’m the worst off out of all the other students I’ve met. Due to my mother (who’s a widow) having just breached the barrier for minimum loans I get very little help from SF, not even enough to cover my accommodation, and due to my older brother and sister still relying on my mother financially, she is unable to offer me any financial help. Therefore, despite only being 3 months into my university education, I’m already hundreds into my overdraft and looking for a job despite not having adequate time to study on top of working and being the only person I know who’s already got a job. Hence, SFE has most certainly failed me! 🙁

  • Fuedup

    Typos, so here is corrected version:
    I am so fed up with biggots who write this tripe, honestly. Here is why:

    Student goes to Uni and is fed garbage that not only will their loan be very minimal interest but that the degree will attain a job with a high salary for the loan not to matter. The student, by the time he or she has spent years working on a diploma, is hardly going to say no, to a chance of a degree, and worry about whether the country, its government, and the Uni itself is lying. Student gets degree. Finds out that it is too competitive an industry to get that dream job and they end up earning a pittance when they can eventually find work. Instead, they work in crappy, low paid jobs, and realise after years that they have gained thousands in interest.

    Seriously, for you who have great jobs from your degrees, well done, but save picking on the low earners and leave out your high-minded gaff.

    If I had a way to skip the debt I would because I was lied to in the above way and the excuse for being turned down jobs was because you needed two years experience…uh?!

    Get over yourselves and stop writing this tripe.

  • Fuedup

    I am so fed up with biggots who write this tripe, honestly. Here is why:
    Student goes to Uni and is fed garbage that not only will their loan be very minimal interest but that the degree will attain a job with a high salary for the loan not to matter. The student, by the time he or she has spent years working on a diploma, is hardly going to say no, to a chance of a degree, and worry about whether the country, its government, and the Uni itself is lying. Student gets degree. Funds out that it is too competitive and industry to get that dream job and they end up earning a pittance when they can eventually find work. Instead, they work in crappy, low paid jobs, and realise after years that they have gained thousands in interest.
    Seriously, for you who have great jobs from your degrees, well done, but save picking on the low earners out of your high-minded gaff.
    If I had a way to skip the debt I would because I was lied to in the above way and the excuse for being turned down jobs was because you needed two years experience.
    Get over yourselves and stop writing this tripe.

  • Jack

    I think the point of SF is to place everyone – as far as possible – in an equal situation, because there isn’t an unlimited amount of money to hand out to students. Whilst I do agree with certain aspects of your argument, I think you’ll find that your situation demonstrates that SF are actually doing something right. Those who aren’t well off are given money towards their living expenses. This money is maybe intended to replace that which would have been subsidised by their parents, had they been in the position to contribute. However, in saying that you’re lucky enough that your parents can afford to help, you demonstrate that you don’t need the extra loan that students from poorer families would.

    Also, I think that suggesting that children with divorced parents would choose to live with the parent with the lower income, solely for that reason, is a bit insulting. Not everyone in the position of having divorced parents is able to choose to have their costs subsidised by the wealthier parent.

    • Lizzie Roberts

      I can see what you’re saying. But my point is that there are people from low income families who get the grants and loans etc and then very wealthy people who don’t need to the loans who don’t get them, but then there are those in the middle who don’t get adequate loans to help them yet their parents cannot afford to support them, take for example Sam further down in the comments.

  • sam

    Great article and this is very true. I am in a similar position and also attend lancaster university. It doesn’t help that the university seems to be determined to weed out the cheaper accommodation and replace it with more expensive alternatives. I was lucky as i lived in ash house and lived off my overdraft and my parents. However if i was a first year this year i wouldn’t be able to live on campus as i wouldn’t be able to afford it. Indeed i didn’t attend york uni for this reason.

    • Lizzie Roberts

      Hello fellow lancaster student! Haha. Yeah I am in Lonsdale college as well which only has superior en suite rooms, this wasn’t even my first choice accommodation and got placed there. It’s so expensive to stay on campus but if you don’t in first I feel like you miss out. If my loan at least covered my rent I would be satisfied with the system.

      • sam

        Yeah i was lucky as i got my first choice in basic standard. However they are refurbishing ash house and if i was in an en suite or superior en suite then my loan wouldn’t cover the rent. Yeah if it covered rent it would make me happy as well. My family are not rich we are middle income earners and it is pretty bad that my loan is so small. I agree that people who earn less need more support but there is a balance to be had.

  • David McNeilage

    I was in a similiar situation to you, my loan fell desperately short of covering even my rent – And had my parents not been able to support me, I wouldn’t have been able to go to University, along with most of my friends.

    The most annoying part is, even though repayments are based on your personal earnings over a certain rate, the poorest students recieve the loan as a grant, so they won’t even pay back a penny of it.

    The middle gets screwed.

    • Lizzie Roberts

      Yeah exactly, im very lucky my parents can help me out, though even with what they give me, its still no where near what some students get as grants and loans etc. it needs to be more equal

  • The Squeezed Middle

    You end up with this bizarre situation where poorer students get a load of money AND everything paid for, and the rich ones don’t have anything to worry about anyway. Meanwhile the “middle-incomers” get little if any grant, a reduced loan, and often don’t have their own money to back it up with. Vois-là: the squeezed middle.

    • Lizzie Roberts

      exactly, totally agree with you.

  • emma

    Another problem is it doesn’t take into account the students financial situation. I got the full loan amount because I live with my lower earning parent but was being more than adequately supported by the other plus had a considerable amount of liquid assets which I had been left in a will. In truth I had more accessible cash at uni than either of my parents

    • Lizzie Roberts

      yeah i agree with you, i saw plenty of cases just like yours at uni. the system doesn’t assess people properly

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