Cornwall Council has announced plans to commit up to £3 million a year to help local students with the cost of living while at university.
From 2014-15, every Cornish student will receive a pre-paid card, worth £30, which can be used to pay for goods and services related to university life, such as textbooks, stationery, rail and train travel cards, and groceries.
Undergraduates from families earning less than £42,600 a year attending a Sutton Trust 30 institution (a group of 30 research-intensive universities involved with the educational charity) will be eligible for funding of up to £3,000 over three years.
The scheme is expected to help about 4,000 students in its first year, when £1 million will be available (by 2016-17, the figure will have risen to £3 million a year), and is designed to boost higher education participation rates in Cornwall: according to a Sutton Trust report in July 2011, only 58 per cent of state school pupils in the county enter university compared with the national average of 64 per cent.
Neil Burden, the council’s portfolio holder for children’s services, said: “We want to ensure that increased tuition fees do not put our young people off from going into higher education and encourage more of them to apply to the top universities.
“Although the number of young people from Cornwall going to university has increased in recent years, it is still lower than the national average, particularly with regard to the numbers attending the more selective universities.”
The scheme re-establishes the principle of local authority support for students at university.
After the Second World War, students were given maintenance grants by their local education authorities, which also paid their tuition fees.
In 1998, grants were replaced with repayable student loans for all but the poorest students, with means-tested fees of up to £1,000 also introduced.
The Cornwall scheme, which is set to be approved by the council’s cabinet later this summer, was also endorsed by the Combined Universities in Cornwall project, which includes Plymouth University and the University of Exeter, University College Falmouth, plus further education institutions such as Cornwall College.
Joe Vinson, president of the Cornwall College Students’ Union, said: “The national support offered by the government is simply inadequate, and it’s great news that Cornwall Council not only recognises this, but has also taken action.”