HEFCE pulls franchise plug

December 12, 1997

FUNDING will be withdrawn for thousands of students studying overseas on courses franchised and run by British universities.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England estimates that funding for up to 7,000 students could be stopped because of revisions to the funding methodology for 1998/99. Many in the university sector put the figure much higher.

It is aimed primarily at curtailing funding for students on franchised courses where they spend most, if not all, of their time overseas. There is concern, however, that the catch-all nature of the new regulations could hit other students, including year-abroad language students and many studying through the Open University.

The funding council says that the new definitions have been introduced to ensure that funding is maintained for all United Kingdom and European Union students studying in England. It says that there has to be a good reason for students studying abroad for their institutions to get funding.

The HEFCE guidance says: "Sandwich students working abroad and language-year abroad students will not normally fit into this category." But a spokesman added that: "If it is an integrated part of the course then we would fund that student."

Previously, core funding could be rolled forwards from year to year so that many of the students on franchised courses and learning abroad attracted funding. HEFCE said that the more explicit rules of the new funding methodology had required it to make the changes.

Martin Watkinson, deputy director of planning for the OU, said that the methodology, if applied strictly, could cut Pounds 6 million from the university's block grant, affecting 7,000 students at the OU alone. This figure may include 1,000 overseas British armed services personnel and their families and 3,000 students in the Republic of Ireland.

The OU says that it may have to subsidise its overseas students by taking funding from home students. The university has requested an urgent meeting with the HEFCE in order to clarify which groups of students will be hit by the proposals.

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