The abolition of maintenance grants has probably had an adverse impact on mature students and those from poorer social groups, according to evidence from the Standing Conference of Principals to the House of Commons select committee on education, writes Alison Goddard.
The committee has asked for evidence on how the introduction of loans and fees has affected quality of learning. "We continue to have concerns about the abolition of the maintenance grant and its possible impact on widening participation among mature students and poorer social groups," SCOP stated.
The funding council's method of earmarking money for special initiatives should be abolished, SCOP added. "Strategies for social inclusion are integral to institutional recruitment strategies and we feel that to maintain special initiative funding installs barriers to inclusion and thwarts progress in local partnerships and collaborative ventures."
The Open University submitted evidence addressing how the way funding is allocated affects the nature of teaching and learning.
Giving evidence on the balance between research and teaching, SCOP, which represents heads of higher education colleges, stated: "It is traditionally asserted that one of the key strengths of higher education is the inter-relationship between teaching, scholarship and research. More needs to be done to demonstrate this in action."
The research assessment exercise has over-emphasised competition to the detriment of collaboration, SCOP added.
The OU said that although governments and the funding council recognised the implications of widening access in increasing student diversity and in programmes, "this has not always been reflected, however, in changes to institutional funding and student support systems".
The Further Education Funding Council should be more flexible towards access courses, allowing students to spread their studies over more than one year.