/ Money, Parenting

Do you know how much you’re supposed to give your kids for uni?

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Kids off to uni soon? Get ready to have your income checked as part of the student finance assessment – and then cough up any shortfall, says our guest, Martin Lewis

They’re 18, finally old enough to vote, ready to leave home and go to university – finally truly independent! Well not quite. Almost every under-25 heading for higher education has their student finances assessed by their parents’ income – not their own.

While all first-time UK undergraduates in England are eligible to get the full loan to pay their fees, the amount of loan they get for living (the maintenance loan) is dictated by their parents’ income.

Many don’t get the full amount. Parents are implicitly meant to fill the gap. Yet this fact, never mind the actual amount, is hardly touched on in any literature. All I can find is one mention buried in the Student Loan Company’s ‘How you’re assessed’ guide (pdf), which has the flaccid phrase ‘depending on their income, parents may have to contribute towards the living costs of their student children’.

This isn’t good enough. The core element that reduces the loan is parents’ income, and this should be explicit. The lack of information means many parents either don’t realise they’re officially supposed to contribute, or see it as a loose amount.

I often hear complaints from parents that ‘the living loan isn’t enough to cover their rent, never mind living costs – I have to give them extra’. This misunderstands that the design of the system factors in parents giving extra; of course students haven’t got enough.

A transparent and fair system would mean the loan letter said something like this (based on a student living in London with £70,000 combined family income):

‘Students – your loan for living is £5,330 a year, this is less than the full loan and we expect your parents to make up at least the £5,372 difference.’

I wrote to the University Minister Jo Johnson requesting that the communication be cleared up. His response was disappointing and confusing. He argued that just because the calculation is based on parents’ income, parents are not expected to make a particular contribution – students can make up the difference from savings or part-time jobs.

Of course they can, yet that answer applies to all students regardless of parental income, so actually the logical implication is all students should get a flat rate. If we don’t expect parents to make up the gap, then why judge on parental income?

I accept politicians may fear pointing out the contribution, especially as the means-tested element this academic year has jumped to up to 56% (it was just 35% in 2015), but even a less polemic statement clearing up the elements would help. Something like…

‘Students – your loan for living is £5,330 a year, which is £5,372 less than the full loan as your parents have higher income.’

As this isn’t happening, to find out how much you’re expected to contribute I’ve developed ready reckoners to help.

Yet while most students are assessed on parental income, there’s no obligation on the parents to contribute (and students can’t force them). Again, this lacks logic – the finances of students and parents should either be separate, or students should have some ability to be able to force parents to comply. The current situation is unclear and therefore unfair to both students and parents.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Is your child or grandchild at university – and did you know what the government expects you to contribute. If you top up their loan, do you feel you have to, and how do you work out what to give them?

This is a guest contribution by Martin Lewis, Founder of MoneySavingExpert.com. All views expressed here are his own, not necessarily those shared by Which?

Alison Simmons says:
18 March 2017

The assessment of parental income is also flawed in that it does not take into account the number of students being supported. I have 3 children at uni and my husband and I are expected to support all 3 of them. So taking the sample calculation in the article, we are expected to find an additional £15,000 pa at least to ensure our children can pay their rent and eat. The calculations do not take into account any outgoings, so disposable income is not a factor.

When I entered higher education and my grant was calculated, the fact that my parents were already supporting my elder sister was taken into account. Their expected contribution did not increase but was split between us and our respective grants increased to accommodate this.

The question of students finding jobs to supplement their loans is also dependent on there being suitable jobs available which is becoming increasingly rare. My middle son is at uni in Glasgow – so you would think there would be ample opportunity for student work. He handed out over 75 CVs and received no response from any potential employers.

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The issue seems to revolve around whether a full maintenance loan is given or not. So presumably no state aid is involved – except for students who never reach the salary threshold to make loan repayments? The guide mentioned in the intro http://www.practitioners.slc.co.uk/media/2639/sfe_how_paid_assessed_guide_1516_d.pdf
does seem to cover this very comprehensively, including details of calculated parental contribution.

Who should pay for higher education is a vexed issue. For many, higher education leads to a better paid job than they would perhaps otherwise get, so it is an investment in their future. Maybe we should be more selective in subsidising certain course where we have a shortage of skilled people; science, engineering and medicine for example. Would this attract the right people?

Paul B says:
18 March 2017

With two having done three years under the new system and who rightfully should remain in it and complete Masters but that is in doubt, I would agree with Alison about the general level of parental support.

We have been paying approximately £350 per student per month non stop i.e. 52 weeks a year, and mine have received some of the lower income type support too. That’s £4,200 per student, AND they have both worked continuously at around 20 hours a week on the ridiculously low wages that define the UK retail sector.

Everyone says this, but my two are amongst the brightest who haven’t received the necessary advice or leg up to get to Oxbridge. Although one did get a few warm and sage words of advice directly from Martin one afternoon when he was filming outside his alma mater!

Both mine are very very rounded and accomplished STEM students – they have both been involved in mentoring and encouraging schoolchildren and others and representing their employers at careers fairs etc. One is in theory now a graduate but has a guaranteed place to return from a year from industry which was a fourth year. The fifth year would be back at uni to get the Masters, but to be honest it looks like the year in industry employer wants to persuade to stay.

My other child did the year in industry as the third year so graduation year is the fourth (current year).

Our economy and jobs market is the pits to be honest. My two have been doing heavyweight real jobs in their years in industry as well as representing employers and their universities. Both were with massive Global companies. The pay for “interns” as they are still euphemistically called except when it suits the business to sign themselves with much more responsible looking titles (as they very much do with the best) is frankly disgraceful. It is less than student shelf-stackers get paid in Europe. And they still have to pay reduced tuition fees during their year in industry!

I dare not tell you how much accountability my two early 20 somethings were given as the decisions they take based on their educational skillset and their other experience impinges on safety in all our lives. Both have already been involved in standing up in teams and making go / no-go decisions which are the difference between you and I meeting everyday situations which are safe as opposed to possibly unsafe had they not been around or not been assertive in their roles.

I would not go as far as to say my kids are the best of the bunch but they are very much top 5% STEM and are not nerds but very commercially aware corporate representatives.

They are better than I was. At their age I’d had a fully funded STEM education at a top university which cost my working class parents nothing apart from doing my washing for a year or two longer than they planned! I had a very competitively paid job, a cheap 100% mortgage arranged by my employer and a company car, plus a DB pension scheme which thankfully has survived !

Large elements of my generation have been systematically stealing from their generation and that is a fact, but that doesn’t mean it is fair to make us undergrad parents pay through the nose. The whole of UK society should be paying twice as much tax, the minimum wage should be double what it is, the personal allowance should be half what it is. Zero hours contracts and low paid “internships” should be abolished, and university should be pretty much fully funded independent of parental income same as it still is in the enlightened parts of Europe.

Yes so very roughly £5,000 per student per year in parental subsidy even for the most generously state funded students, and still the students will wonder if it is all worth it at the end. Even those like my two who will always find a job, are tempted to sell themselves too soon (prior to completing Masters for example) and too cheaply, purely because they might see a few peers in the City who’ve had leg ups to unadvertised positions who are already living it up at the expense of the rest of us.

I am truly ashamed at the way we treat our young promise.

Martin says:
21 March 2017

It looks like the enacted policies have not been adequately thought through. I suspect the unintended consequence being that Students from JAM families are put off further education. Thus ensuring the elite few by birth, continue to retain the well paid jobs. Not an overt policy, just a convenient one. I’m faced with the same issues as above and have no idea how I’m going to provide the assistance necessary to complete my children’s education. I think there may be some alternative financing options if studying in Scotland or other EU territories. It would certainly make sense to assist courses that provide the most benefit to society, as suggested above.

Sarah Allen says:
21 March 2017

It’s a tough one. I went to university in the early 2000s. My parents did not care either way what I did when i left college and I spent months desperately trying to ask student finance to understand that I would have no financial input from my parents. I went to University, got a 30 hour a week job which i kept throughout my degree and placement year. I returned to my parents home each summer and worked full time in a supermarket. At the end of my second year- after living on a bag of frozen vegetables and some stolen bread for 5 weeks- i returned home to see my family and went to see my family GP. She told me I was malnourished. I worked longer hours in my job during my final year to provide more food for myself. It was heartbreaking seeing my family go off on package holidays while i attempted to feed myself. The kicker is that i came out of University, just scraping a 2:2 and have had no way to use the qualification since. I am still paying off overdrafts from University 10 years after I left- and i haven’t been able to begin my life, really. I don’t blame my parents- not all people value education which is a shame but a reality. Who i do blame however is the government. Firstly for propagating the early 2000s myth that everyone should have a University education and secondly for their lack of common sense policies surrounding student fees. Not all of us are privileged, not all of us can rely on mum and dad. Some of us will even starve ourselves for a useless qualification, that our government told us we should get. Life is ridiculous most of the time, it’s far too complicated and sad.

Caroline says:
22 March 2017

It is NOT parental income. It’s main parent’s household income.

It’s based on mine and my husband’s income. He’s my son’s stepfather. My son’s biological father and stepmother’s income is not taken into account at all.

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That’s a good discriminating point, Caroline. It is essential to be precise in these matters.