English universities have turned away more than £3.5 million in funding to support postgraduate students. The money was intended to help students who paid high fees for their bachelor’s degree to complete a master’s before a national postgraduate loan scheme is introduced in 2016-17.
The universities in question said that the late announcement of the scheme, its requirements and budget constraints led them to decline all or part of the funding allocated to them.
The extra funds have been redistributed among other universities who did accept their allocation.
In last year’s Autumn Statement, chancellor George Osborne announced £50 million of funding for universities that would plug the gap between a series of pilot postgraduate support schemes in 2014-15 and the roll-out of a loan scheme two years later.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England announced how it would distribute the money in mid-December 2014. Institutions had until the end of January to state whether or not they wanted the money, and the final allocations were published in March this year.
Any funding from Hefce has to be matched by institutions.
An analysis by Times Higher Education has found that 16 universities turned down some or all of the funding. Imperial College London turned down the most, rejecting all its £775,000 allocation.
The universities of Bedfordshire, Bolton, Surrey, University College Birmingham, the Institute of Cancer Research, the Royal Northern College of Music and the Open University also turned down all their allocations of between £10,000 and £385,000. Eight other institutions each rejected up to £415,000.
A spokesman for Imperial said that its students have access to “some of the most generous bursaries packages in the UK” but that “most of this funding did not meet the specific conditions for matching which Hefce imposed”.
He said: “Given the very short notice and the range of postgraduate awards planned at Imperial, it would not have been consistent with our longer term academic priorities to have taken funding away from our prestigious PhD scholarships.”
The University of York turned down more than half its funding, accepting £300,000 of its £710,000 allocation. The decision came with “considerable reluctance”, according to a statement.
“The scheme was announced relatively late in our planning and budgeting cycle…There was uncertainty about our quality-related [research] income as well as sector-wide concerns about university budgets for 2015-16 and beyond.”
The University of Leicester accepted less than half its initial allocation of £635,000. A spokesman said that its decision was based on an analysis of its third-year undergraduate cohort, with a focus on widening participation.
Leicester wrote to more than 700 students who met the criteria to tell them that they would be eligible for an award. But discussions with its Career Development Service and Postgraduate Admissions Team concluded that 55 awards “was the optimum number”.
Bournemouth University and the universities of Bedfordshire and the West of England also said that diverting funds into the one-year scheme would have disrupted existing widening-participation programmes for master’s students.
Hefce said that the “vast majority” of institutions accepted their allocations. Allowing universities to decline all or part of the funding gave Hefce the “flexibility to deliver awards in line with anticipated demand and ensure the most efficient allocation possible”, it added.