Elite academic institutions recruiting bright students from poor areas have been hit by major budget cuts following changes to the way that teaching is funded in English universities.
Fourteen universities - including the London School of Economics, Imperial College London, University College London and the universities of Durham, Warwick, Cambridge, Nottingham and Leeds - have seen their grants for attracting more working-class students plummet by more than 20 per cent this year.
The changes are a result of the recognition that students gaining straight A grades at A level are easier - and hence cheaper - to keep on a degree course than those with less impressive entry qualifications. In effect, institutions attracting such applicants have seen their strong records in retaining students work against them.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England is now deploying a much more accurate method for identifying which students are most at risk of dropping out of university. This can be done using the new tariff points developed by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, which include the full breadth of pre-university qualifcations, not just A-level points.
The funding council has allocated £7 million for widening participation in 2005-06. The lion's share - some £215 million - is for improving the retention of students after they have enrolled at university. A further Pounds 50 million has been allocated to widening access; and £12 million is for support for disabled students.
Small specialist institutions including the Kent Institute of Art and Design, the Arts Institute at Bournemouth, the Wimbledon School of Art and the Norwich School of Art and Design all benefit from the changes to the widening access funds.
But Loughborough and Bath universities are also among the 18 institutions that have seen an increase of 20 per cent or more in this element of their funding council grant.
Perhaps most suprising, other unversities facing cuts in widening participation grants are Leeds Metropolitan, London Metropolitan and Thames Valley.
But final allocations will be adjusted to allow institutions to correct faulty data returns. The funding council treated students with unknown entry qualifications as holding the highest entry qualification, and has set aside some £5 million to make up for any shortfalls resulting from this assumption.
Meanwhile, teaching grants overall amount to £4,004 million in 2005-06, up 2.9 per cent in real terms compared with last year.
Teesside and Kingston universities are among those with the biggest increases, reflecting, as in previous years, rises in the numbers of students enrolled at the institutions.
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