Universities and students are to get an extra Pounds 131 million on top of the Pounds 20 million announced earlier this year to help widen access for young people from poorer backgrounds.
The money is part of the Excellence Challenge Package announced by education secretary David Blunkett yesterday, and it comes with several strings attached designed to ensure universities widen access.
The total Pounds 151 million package is split over three years. In 2001-02 there will be Pounds 33 million, with Pounds 56 million in 2002-03 and Pounds 62 million in 2003-04.
There are four strands to the package. The first will bring universities and colleges into the Excellence in Cities initiative. Schools, colleges and universities will be expected to work together to provide extra support for 13 to 19-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Funding will comprise Pounds 13 million to Excellence in Cities areas in 2001-02, Pounds 32 million in 2002-03 and Pounds 35 million in 2003-04. It will include special help for those who aspire to Oxford, Cambridge and other leading research universities, including masterclasses for young hopefuls to encourage them to achieve the highest grades at A level and the new advanced extension awards.
The second strand provides for increased funding for universities to enable them to improve their ability to reach deprived communities. It is proposed that Pounds 18 million will be available through the funding councils in 2001-02, Pounds 19 million in 2002-03 and Pounds 20 million in 2003-04.
Universities will be expected to agree action plans with the funding council. These will form part of institutions' corporate plans.
The plans will be expected to set out measures for recruiting and retaining students from poor backgrounds, amounting to institutional teaching and learning strategies. To qualify for the extra cash, universities will have to provide the funding council with proposals, including how they intend to reach out to schools and further education colleges, agreeing recruitment targets against benchmarks and appointing recruitment officers. This will cost Pounds 1 million in 2001-02, with Pounds 2 million in each of the following two years.
The third strand commits the government to providing clearer information about tuition fees and student loans to young people from families with no history of university education.
The additional money will be Pounds 1 million in 2001-02, on top of Pounds 6 million already announced for opportunity bursaries; an extra Pounds 2 million in 2002-03, on top of the Pounds 10 million already allocated for them in that year; and an extra Pounds 4 million on top of the existing Pounds 14 million allocated for 2003-04.
The fourth strand comprises a range of pilot schemes offering new forms of financial help for students. Up to 6,000 opportunity bursaries will be introduced from 2001. Students will be able to claim grants of up to Pounds 2,000 over the three years of their course to help pay for books, equipment, rent and travel. Higher education bonuses will also be available, offering payments of Pounds 100 to sixth-formers in Excellence in Cities areas as an incentive to apply to university.
Mr Blunkett said: "Higher education has been through many changes over the past three decades, but there are still two important challenges that must be addressed. The first is about standards, quality and student numbers. There is no point in a degree if it does not require hard work, intellectual rigour and breadth of knowledge in order to achieve it. I know that vice-chancellors share that commitment, but it is important that employers and the wider public understand it, too.
"I am not interested in seeing entry requirements reduced for courses or some form of patronising positive discrimination for working-class students.
"The second issue is about how we get more bright students from poor backgrounds to apply to leading universities. I commend the efforts of universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, over the past two years and hope that they will ensure that more suitably qualified state-school pupils get the chance to go to university."
Baroness Warwick, chief executive of the Committee of Vice-chancellors and Principals, said: "Universities are working with schools and colleges to improve access for all young people. The CVCP has campaigned vigorously for the funds to achieve this. These initiatives will help tackle the issue."