Student support is straw man

December 4, 2008

I am not sure if it is the Times Higher Education article or Claire Callender's report that has it so wrong ("No awards for equity", 20 November). The terms "bursaries" and "scholarships" are used interchangeably when they are totally different things, leading to wrong-headed conclusions.

Bursaries are by definition means-tested, in this case usually against family income as declared for state support purposes. Scholarships, on the other hand, are available against a wide range of other criteria adopted by individual higher education institutions, including recognising various aspects of achievement such as merit scholarships based on A-level scores. Of course, some of those scholarships go to students from underrepresented groups as well as to others.

It was never the intention of Government that scholarships so defined going to all students should count towards the proportion of extra fee income spent supporting those students from underrepresented communities. Additional fee income, like all other income, was intended to be used by HEIs for a whole range of purposes as a response to underfunding of the sector. Spending some of it on scholarships is as legitimate as spending it on, for example, marketing, increased staffing and library books.

Your article, and possibly Callender's report, have set up the classic "straw man" to easily knock down. The conclusions drawn, that somehow expenditure on scholarships is diverting money from poor students, are erroneous and misleading.

Tommy Geddes. Chair, Higher Education Bursaries and Scholarships Scheme; Deputy vice-chancellor, University of Winchester.

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