Bursary system will be a lottery, says study

February 6, 2004

Bursaries will be a lottery for poor students, adding to the complexity of the already convoluted student-support systems, Claire Callender of London South Bank University and author of the government's Student Expenditure and Income Survey warned this week.

"If left to the discretion of each university, there are bound to be inconsistencies (and potential inequities) in how the monies, and how much money, is allocated to students in similar circumstances with similar financial needs but attending different universities," she said.

Professor Callender warned that if no standard formula for calculating bursaries was established, students would not know in advance exactly how much minimum bursary they would be likely to get.

Universities, however, are keen to have maximum flexibility in determining how income from fees is spent.

A briefing to a Universities UK board meeting last Friday read: "There is a need to remain alert to the extent to which the secretary of state intends to direct, through Offa (the Office for Fair Access), institutional strategies for widening participation and, in particular, the provision of bursaries."

It advised that UUK should push for a vote in both houses before regulations dictating bursary levels were brought into force.

UUK shares Professor Callender's concerns about means testing. Its briefing questions how universities will get the information they need about students' financial circumstances to make bursary offers. "The DFES (Department for Education and Skills) or Student Loans Company could provide the information to institutions but presumably only after the student has been admitted," it says.

Professor Callender also warned that in the US universities, faced with an increasingly competitive market for students, had switched their scholarships from poor students to merit - based on academic test scores, athletic abilities and family links.

She said: "Public universities attended by lower and middle-income students - for example, the California State University system - have very modest scholarship resources, if any at all.

"As a consequence, most scholarships (offered by wealthier universities charging higher fees) in the US are not received by low-income students; rather, they are awarded to middle and upper-income students," she said.

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