/ Money, Parenting

Have you helped your child or grandchild through university?

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?


Yes, I confess to being The Bank of Grandma to my two grandchildren to fund their uni fees. due mainly to the untimely death of their father from cancer at aged 45 in 2004. The question of whether they would have been eligible for a grant due to their circumstances was never raised. I waited until they attained their degrees before rewarding them for their efforts though. They both expressed their gratitude at the time and I was glad to be able to give them the opportunity to start their lives without being burdened with huge debts.

Thanks for conveying the above report Paul. Without family financial backing I cant see how students can afford to pay today’s uni fees and save enough for a mortgage deposit to obtain that all important first step on the property ladder, almost impossible now for students living in the London area. My two grandchildren were lucky in as much as they qualified just before tuition fees were increased almost three fold.

I worked in the (long) summer breaks to help pay my way through university – before the ’80s I must add. My children went to college and we helped them financially, although they also worked to earn themselves some money.

I wonder a couple of things now there will be loans for both tuition fees and maintenance.
– Will it affect the choice of courses people take – for those more lucrative after graduating to help with loan repayments
– Will graduates who then emigrate to work effectively get their maintenance and education for free
– Will young ladies who marry and raise a family – not working – after graduating again not have anything to pay.

I would like to see incentives for students to enroll in the kind of courses we need to develop economically as a country – medicine, engineering, science, mathematics for example.

Your final paragraph is most pertinent. We have a surfeit of highway engineers but not enough new road schemes to keep them occupied in the UK, and a dearth of railway and signalling engineers so we are having to scour other continents to find the skills required to deliver the government’s electrification programme [and, as has been reported recently, failing to do so on time to such an extent that several key projects have now had to be ‘paused’, as the Prime Minister put it, to enable the industry to catch up]. I don’t think it would ever be possible to align the education and training of young people with the specific needs of infrastructure development which always follows a a roller-coaster trajectory, but since many people with key disciplines as outlined by Malcolm above could, with extension training, adapt to a different sector in line with economic requirements this should be a priority. There is a looming shortage of teachers as well that needs to be addressed urgently; this has been predictable for some time but not enough effort has been made to produce the next generation of educators.

M.Smith says:
12 July 2015

I was dismayed by the news of no more grants, I have a daughter starting second year at university.
Last year I paid the rent, and my daughter had a loan for the fees and a part time job to fund living costs, which were supplemented by the grant. like many of her friends she is now really worried about the shortfall in her finances and is considering taking on extra work to make ends meet. This will have a detrimental effect on her final grade . Her cousin has now decided not to go to university.
I’m not convinced the extra money the government will raise by removing the grant will offset the damage that will be caused by young people not going to university, and therefore denying the rest of us their skills. Are we going back to the age where education like tennis were only for the elite?

The replacement of grants by loans will come into effect for new students from the 2016-17 academic year. Additionally, the maintenance loan available will be raised to £8,200.


The “elite” as you prefer to call them are not all university material. Of my four children only one attained the grades necessary to gain a place at university. Even so a grant was out of the question for him at the time because his father, a director of a large multinational company who could well afford to fund his education, used his corporate status and influence to conveniently arrange an interview for him with one of the big four banks where he worked full time and studied at the same time to gain his banking management credentials, with nil cost to his father!

I was able to assist my two grandchildren, who also worked part time whilst studying, because I downsized and sold my house after parting company with their parsimonious grandfather and bought a smaller one, freeing up enough capital to help them out, but only after they qualified when the money was then transferred directly into their student loan accounts. They are both now in full time employment with fulfilling and satisfying jobs.

Lessismore says:
14 July 2015

Isn’t nursing now a university course?

We don’t have enough trained nurses….