A bit of take and give

May 6, 2005

Alison Goddard looks at how top-up fee income will be spent in England

Huge variations in what is on offer to students at English universities have been revealed by a survey of the access agreements that were finalised with the Office for Fair Access in March.

Each institution that is hoping to charge top-up fees of up to the maximum of £3,000 from 2006 was required to submit to Offa its plans for bursaries to support students from low-income families.

Those institutions were also asked, in confidence, to submit key information on how much additional fee income they expected to generate - and how much they planned to spend on bursaries for underrepresented groups and for outreach activities.

The Times Higher requested this information under the Freedom of Information Act.

David Barrett, programme manager at Offa, warned university staff who had submitted the information that Offa could not prevent The Times Higher from publishing it. He also told worried staff that they could resubmit this information if they wanted to.

His email states: "If you feel that the information provided for your institution is now inaccurate and you would like to change it (for example, because you have now done further modelling or, knowing that this information will now be public, you would like to include elements of scholarship for underrepresented groups, or outreach investment that was previously undeveloped, or you chose not to include in your figures), then you will need to resubmit a cover sheet with an explana-tion of why the figures have changed."

Four universities did so: Bradford, Hertfordshire, Lincoln and Warwick.

The figures listed here show spending on underrepresented groups only.

Bursaries for students who, for example, are academically accomplished but do not belong to a group that is underrepresented in higher education are excluded.

These figures also exclude spending on existing efforts to widen participation. This may explain why some members of the access elite - those institutions that are among the most successful in broadening access - appear to be spending little of their extra income on supporting students and raising aspirations.

Institutions receiving less than £1 million in extra income from top-up fees in 2006 were excluded from the table.

  • Hull, Liverpool John Moores and London South Bank are missing from the table opposite because their access agreements had not been concluded in March. All three will charge £3,000 tuition fees. Birmingham University will guarantee students from low-income families an £800 bursary. These students are also eligible for a performance-related scholarship that could take their total support to £2,000. The maximum sum available to students from middle-income families will also be £2,000.

A tale of two campuses: what the extra cash will go on

University of Central Lancashire

The University of Central Lancashire is one of the most generous institutions to students. Its access agreement outlines plans to devote 78 per cent of the £6.8 million it will raise with the introduction of top-up fees in 2006 on bursaries and outreach activities - but its vice-chancellor says the true figure is nearer 55 per cent.

The money will ensure that all students from families where the principal earner is paid less than £60,000 a year will receive a £1,000 bursary. The university estimates that 90 per cent of students will receive this sum.

Staff were incensed last month when they were asked to consider contributing some of their pay to a student bursary fund.

Roehampton University

The lion's share (84 per cent) of the money generated by tuition fees at Roehampton University will be spent on things such as improving staff pay and pensions and on modernising buildings and equipment.

Some 16 per cent of the £3.5 million extra from top-ups will be spent on student bursaries and outreach activities.

Roehampton can do this because the Office for Fair Access is less interested in policing the access elite, to which the university belongs, who have demonstrated that they have already gone some way to ensure fair access.

Some 39 per cent of Roehampton's students enter higher education with qualifications other than A levels. A similar proportion have their fees paid in full by the state, and 13 per cent have their fees partially paid by the state.

The university will offer the statutory minimum bursary of £300 to all students who receive the full maintenance grant. It will then offer a further £1,000 to students on the basis of high prior attainment.

The university estimates that 500 students a year from underrepresented groups will receive these scholarships.

Paul O'Prey, the vice-chancellor, said that he planned to spend a third of the money on creating a single pay spine, enhancing pension provision and increasing staff pay.

He said: "The rest will be spent on modernising the estate and enhancing the student experience. We want to make sure that all our teaching facilities are state-of-the-art."

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