OU nets access funding windfall

March 3, 2006

  • £4.2 billion for teaching - an increase of 4 per cent in real terms
  • £1.3 billion for research - up by 4.6 per cent in real terms
  • £344 million for widening participation - up by 18.5 per cent in real terms

The Open University will receive £29 million this year to recruit disadvantaged students - nearly four times as much cash as any other university, funding chiefs announced this week.

The increase in the OU's widening participation grant, up 70 per cent in 2006-07 compared with the previous year, is due primarily to extra funds allocated for part-time students from poor backgrounds.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England announced the allocation of £344 million to help English universities recruit students from poor backgrounds for the next academic year as part of the overall grants for English academic institutions. Overall, funding for widening participation is up by 21 per cent for 2006-07 compared with 2005-06.

Ministers and funding chiefs promised universities £40 million to recruit part-time students from disadvantaged backgrounds last November.

This sum is included in the widening participation allocations for the first time in 2006-07. The OU is the main beneficiary, as it teaches roughly a third of all part-time students.

Other universities with significant increases in widening access grants include Teesside, where funding will rise by 53 per cent to £7.4 million, and Anglia Ruskin, where it will grow by 54 per cent to £8.2 million.

Cambridge University, in contrast, will have its widening participation grant cut by almost a quarter to a little over £500,000. Grants for widening access at the universities of Manchester, Bristol and King's College London will also be reduced by 7, 12 and 23 per cent respectively.

David Vincent, the OU's pro vice-chancellor for strategy, planning and external affairs, said: "This is a fair distribution. Our allocation is in line with last November's announcement."

But Professor Vincent and many at post-92 universities believe that the overall 21 per cent increase in widening participation funds may be insufficient if the Government is to reach its 2010 50 per cent participation target.

Manchester Metropolitan University's widening participation grant will increase by 10 per cent to £8.5 million. Vice-chancellor John Brooks said: "It is a small step in the right direction - a significant but inadequate amount.

"However, I am pleased that the Government and the funding council are beginning to recognise the importance of the costs of widening participation."

Tony Minson, pro vice-chancellor for planning and resources at Cambridge, said: "I would be very worried if the funding council's assessment meant that we were doing less well at widening participation.

"We are spending huge amounts of money trying to attract students from state schools in underprivileged areas," Professor Minson said.

jessica.shepherd@thes.co.uk

Link to table in the Statistics section: Funding allocations 2006-07   

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