Elite trumped in access stakes

March 5, 1999

New universities and further education colleges have won the contest for widening participation cash in next year's funding settlement, although the serious money will stay with the research elite.

Post-1992 universities and colleges have won the lion's share of a Pounds 20 million fund for widening participation by disadvantaged students, according to the Higher Education Funding Council for England's provisional allocations for 1999-2000. The council will distribute Pounds 4,216 million in total, a 2.4 per cent increase. There is Pounds 2,916 million for teaching, Pounds 855 million for research and Pounds 435 million of special funding.

Research money is becoming highly concentrated. Just four universities, Oxford, Cambridge, University College London and Imperial College, will secure almost Pounds 240 million between them for research next year. This is nearly a third of the total Pounds 855 million allocated for research by Hefce and it accounts for about half of these institutions' Hefce income.

The same four institutions, and the Open University, have the highest total Hefce incomes. The remaining Hefce research money will be shared by 123 institutions with 85 of these getting less than Pounds 5 million each.

A widening participation indicator, devised by The THES using Hefce figures, shows how much extra access money institutions will receive next year for each full-time undergraduate student aged under 25. The table does not cover institutions' success in widening participation through part-time or mature students, but it does give an indication of achievement in this area. Premiums of up to 5 per cent of core funding per student are paid by Hefce for mature and part-time students.

The table shows that 71 per cent of universities in the top half of the access index are post-1992 institutions. Sunderland and Luton Universities are first and second. Next year Sunderland will receive an extra Pounds 304,876 for 9,176 full-time undergraduates, Pounds 33 each, and Luton Pounds 247,644 for 7,841, which is an extra Pounds 31 per student. Some 73 per cent of institutions in the bottom half of the index are pre-1992 universities, some of which receive less than half as much extra per full-time undergraduate as Sunderland and Luton. Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and Imperial come in the bottom half of the table.

A spokesman for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals said: "We welcome HEFCE's recognition that universities need additional funds to be able to support students from lower socio-economic groups."

Colleges too will share in the widening participation bonanza. Changes in government funding policy mean that from next year sub-degree courses, such as higher national diplomas, provided in further education colleges will be funded by Hefce. The Further Education Funding Council has agreed to transfer Pounds 40 million to Hefce to cover the cost of providing higher education courses at an additional 200 colleges in 1999-00.

But because college-based higher education courses have been underfunded relative to similar provision in universities, Hefce has added Pounds 6.5 million to the Pounds 40 million transfer sum. Hefce's intention over time is to converge funding for higher education students in the two sectors.

Colleges also look certain to gain most of the additional 23,000 full-time equivalent student places that Hefce will allocate later this month. The government has said that the bulk of this higher education expansion over the next three years should take place at sub-degree level in further education colleges. These extra places will be fully funded.

John Brennan, director of policy for the Association of Colleges, said: "We are delighted that Hefce has recognised the disparities in funding levels between the two sectors and have started the process of harmonising or migrating funding. We hope that this process will not be too long."

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