There are reasons to regret growing up in the 1980s – bad clothes, big hair, Spandau Ballet. But despite the bad family photos and music I’m glad I grew up when I did – because I had a grant to go to university.
Two pieces of news have made me realise how lucky I was. It was announced in the Summer Budget that university maintenance grants are to be scrapped. Instead the more than half a million students in England who get one will instead have to apply for a loan.
And our own study has revealed just how many generous parents and grandparents are helping students through college. Nearly three quarters of grandparents provide financial support to help grandchildren through university or intend to do so, according to Which? University research.
Sadly neither option would have been open to our family in 1986 when I went to college.
Which has made me wonder whether I would have gone to university at all and not experienced something that really did (and I know it’s a cliché) change my life.
University grants and why they mattered to me
A bit of background – and don’t worry I’ll try to go easy on the ‘by ‘eck it were hard where I come from’ stuff.
I come from a large Irish immigrant family. Dad left school at 14 and worked until he was in his mid seventies as a farmer and then labourer so he could afford to buy his own house and raise a family.
I wouldn’t say we were poor, though we would have had free school meals except that Mum didn’t want us to stand out in the dinner queue.
But it is true that Dad never lost his dread of not being able to pay the bills or going into debt. We used to laugh how he always turned the lights off in the hall to save money.
Going to university was unimaginable
Staying on for A-levels was a big deal. Going to university unimaginable. When my elder brother said he wanted to, he was the first of our much extended family to do so.
And even though we qualified for a full grant, it was a real struggle to get Dad to sign a form.
I think he half felt it was a trick and he might have to shell out some of the costs. Plus, there was three years of earnings wasted.
The idea that my brother (and later me) would take on a large loan to pay for college would have been unthinkable.
Unimaginable too, that Mum and Dad would be able to help much with the finances. Though every now and then when I was at college an envelope arrived in which Mum had slipped a £5 note – presumably when Dad wasn’t looking.
I’m not suggesting this story is out of the ordinary, but I am grateful for the chance that the grant gave to change my circumstances. And I’d be interested to know how students today pay their way through college.
Are you planning or have you helped your child or grandchild pay their way through university? How are they managing their budget as a student?