Access strategies postponed due to grant letter delay

Suggestion that wrangle over Access to Learning Fund is now delaying letter

February 6, 2014

The “unexpected delay” in the government sending its grant letter on funding for higher education in England has forced a new student access strategy to be postponed.

Meanwhile, it has been suggested that a wrangle within government over the future of the £41 million Access to Learning Fund, which provides discretionary small grants for poorer students, is the latest obstacle holding up the grant letter.

Others in the sector suggest that Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, has insisted that there be no cuts to further education, nor the switching of grants to loans in the student support budget.

With the science ring fence likely to stay, the bulk of cuts will fall on the higher education teaching budget.

But some predict a figure of £200 million or under in additional cuts for 2014-15 - less than initially feared, given the reported £1.4 billion overspend faced by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills over the coming two years.

The grant letter, sent each year by BIS to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, will outline the sector’s funding for 2014-15.

Hefce told universities today that a joint access plan with the Office for Fair Access, requiring institutions to submit strategies for “access and student success” would not be going ahead.

This may be because institutions, without the grant letter, have still not been told how much student opportunity fund for the poorest students they will receive.

Student opportunity funding, which stood at £322 million this year, is one of the areas being battled over within government, with the Treasury reportedly pushing for it to be cut.

The funding council says in today’s message: “We have jointly taken this decision because of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ unexpected delay in sending Hefce’s grant letter, and because we appreciate that institutions need to make progress with their access and student success plans, which must be approved by the Director of Fair Access to Higher Education.”

Instead, institutions will submit a 2015-16 access agreement to Offa as usual, while Hefce will require a submission from all institutions in receipt of student opportunity funding.

Meanwhile, the Million+ group of newer universities Tweeted today: “Are last minute discussions re Access for Learning Fund delaying BIS Grant letter to Hefce?”

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