UK universities spending more on outreach and less on bursaries, report shows

 

Education Editor

Britain’s leading universities have performed a U-turn over the methods they use to attract more disadvantaged students, says a report out today.

University access watchdog the Office for Fair Access reveals they are cutting spending on scholarships and bursaries and putting their efforts into sending students into their schools to raise their aspirations instead,

Figures show spending on outreach work is expected to rise from £125 million to £146 million next year, while the money earmarked to support students on their courses whilst at university also goes up from £119 million to £131 million. In addition, a further £46 million is being spent on helping prepare disadvantaged students for job interviews.

By contrast, the amount spent on bursaries, scholarships and hardship funds is set to fall from £465 million to £412 million as university vice-chancellors come to the conclusion it is not the cost of the courses that is the main deterrent for poorer students seeking a university place. With loans, no student has to repay their fees until they are earning £21,000 a year.

The figures emerge in a list of the 172 “access agreements” signed by individual universities and OFFA, without which they would be unable to charge fees of over £6,000 a year.

“We’ve seen a clear change in investment patterns,” said Les Ebdon, OFFA’s director. “I am pleased with the increasingly strategic, evidence-led approach we are seeing in the access agreements that universities and colleges submit to us.”

Today’s report says universities are “increasing their emphasis on the whole student lifecycle where students are supported not only to prepare for and access higher education but also supported on their journey through and beyond their course”.

However, university lecturers’ leaders warned that there was still “much more to do if colleges and universities are serious about changing the social make-up of their campuses”.

“OFFA may have pushed colleges and universities to stretch their targets but the statistics tell us there is much more to do,” said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union. “Where someone lives and their family background still has too much bearing on whether they succeed into higher education.”

Meanwhile, a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute think tank published today warns the Government has a “blind spot” over regulating private sector providers of higher education.

Professor Sir David Watson, author of the pamphlet, says: “In the UK we have a fear, verging on paranoia, about regulating the private and for-profit sector to the same to the same standards and levels of the public sector in case they take away their ball.”

As a result, there had been cases of private colleges having minimal attendances at lectures, with the suggestion they were enrolling students just to make money rather than putting them through a rigorous admissions interview.

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