Free school meal deal could leave participation funding cupboard bare

Introducing a "student premium" to encourage more teenagers from disadvantaged families to attend university may lead to cuts in support for mature or part-time students, sector figures have warned.

May 31, 2012

Comments made last week by Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, suggest that the government is considering a new scheme to give £2,500 a year in financial aid to all pupils on free school meals entering university.

Students would need to pass the English baccalaureate - at least a C grade at GCSE level in five core subjects - to qualify for the premium, details of which are "still under development", according to Mr Clegg.

However, with no new money apparently attached to the project, there are fears in the sector that existing funding body grants for widening participation might be raided to support the premium.

News of the scheme emerged in the same week as a letter from Vince Cable, the business secretary, and David Willetts, the universities and science minister, called on the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Office for Fair Access to enact a "shared strategy for widening access to higher education".

Pointing to cash available under existing schemes, including Hefce's grant to improve widening participation, the letter asks how "record levels [of expenditure] might be best targeted to deliver impact".

"The time is now right to look strategically across investment streams, to ensure we achieve synergy and maximise outcomes for students," the letter says, urging "evidence-based assessment of what works in widening access".

Graeme Atherton, director of AccessHE, a widening-participation scheme in London, said that merging income streams may leave Hefce's premium - worth £140 million in 2012-13 - vulnerable to cuts.

The "postcode premium" is allocated to universities based on the number of students they have from areas of low participation in higher education. Its biggest recipients are post-1992 universities, particularly those with large numbers of part-time students.

"Reading between the lines, (the letter) might be the first step to streamlining funding," Dr Atherton said. "The problem with the widening-participation premium is the evidence for its use is very thin. I'm not saying it hasn't been spent well, but there has never been much pressure to account for its use."

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Million+, which represents many post-92 universities, said that if funds were concentrated on school-leavers through a student premium, it risked neglecting older students, who would not qualify.

"Supporting students of different ages and diverse educational backgrounds to succeed while they are at university is just as important as encouraging students to enter university in the first place," she said.

Linking financial support to the English baccalaureate would also shift resources from marginal pupils at poor schools to high-performing teenagers from poor backgrounds, argued Neil Harrison, senior research fellow in education at the University of the West of England.

"The scheme smacks of giving more to those students who are already achieving highly, and almost certainly going to university, rather than trying to encourage those that are marginal, who have had the misfortune to attend a poorly performing school," he said.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy

sitting by statue

Institutions told they have a ‘culture of excluding postgraduates’ in wake of damning study