Access is still a game where post-92s beat Russell Group

Students at new universities are almost twice as likely to get a full student grant as their peers at Russell Group institutions, figures show.

July 4, 2012

Data released in the Office for Fair Access’s annual monitoring report show that 41.3 per cent of students at post-1992 universities in 2010-11 qualified for full state support because their family income was less than £25,000 a year, whereas only 21.2 per cent of those at Russell Group universities were in the same category.

Overall, 54.5 per cent of students at post-92 universities qualified for some level of bursary, which was available to those from families earning less than £50,020.

That compared with 32.3 per cent of students at Russell Group universities.

Patrick McGhee, vice-chancellor of the University of East London and chair of Million+, which represents new universities, said that it was important to recognise the role of post-92s in educating students from poor backgrounds.

“The graduate profile would look very different if the contribution of modern universities to widening participation was taken out of the equation,” he said.

“There are huge benefits to the UK and to social cohesion of ensuring that higher education is opened to the widest possible pool of talent.”

But Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said its universities should not be blamed for their failure to admit more students from less affluent backgrounds.

“Universities themselves do not have the power to solve the root causes of the under-representation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds: underachievement at school and poor advice on the best choices of A-level subjects and university degree course.

“So it is hard for universities to make rapid progress on achieving demanding and really quite specific targets that relate to much broader and complex socio-economic problems.”

She added that “the government’s access policies risk focusing too much on regulation and not enough on resolving the real problems”.

The report, published on 4 July, shows that universities and colleges spent £378.1 million on bursaries and scholarships for students from low-income and other under-represented groups, up from £363.5 million in 2009-10.

Spending on outreach, which includes activities such as summer schools, rose by 15 per cent to £45.7 million, up from £39.6 million in 2009-10.

Alex Bols, executive director of the 1994 Group of smaller research-intensive universities, said his members had increased outreach spending by 28.3 per cent in 2010-11.

“By focusing investment on outreach activity, universities can widen participation in higher education without compromising academic standards,” he said.

Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, said the Offa report showed that spending on bursaries and scholarships would fall once the higher tuition fee system was embedded – down to £5.4 million in 2015-16.

He added that the government’s additional £150 million in funding for its National Scholarship Programme would be swallowed up to part-fund £245.3 million in fee waivers.

“Many of those students most in need of support will be failed as a direct result of a regulator that thinks we will get more poor kids into university by cutting the cash in their pockets.

“New leadership for Offa and a rethink of access agreements and student support cannot come a day too soon.”

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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