Pounds 60m carrot for dual plan

August 21, 1998

The English funding council this week issued two consultation documents: one on widening participation, the other on teaching excellence

About Pounds 30 million of extra cash would go to universities and colleges that recruit students from disadvantaged backgrounds under proposals published this week, writes Harriet Swain.

Most of the money would follow students from poor backgrounds or with disabilities and would be allocated as part of the main Higher Education Funding Council for England teaching fund.

The funding council is compiling figures showing how many people from each social class attend each institution as well as how many drop out. Extra-funded student numbers will also be directed under a bidding process to institutions committed to improving access.

This is likely to mean many more student places going to FE colleges. Hefce says these are particularly important in widening participation because they are local and provide certificate and diploma-level programmes.

In addition, about Pounds 2 million would go to special projects, such as building links between HE and FE institutions and schools and spreading good practice.

Eventually, the council intends to develop projects with the Further Education Funding Council.

In the first year, the extra student-related payments would be linked only to numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. But in later years, Hefce would take into account whether institutions had strategies on participation and whether they were keeping to them. Targets could be introduced nationally or by individual institutions to work out the impact of the new measures.

Hefce is particularly keen to ensure bright people with qualifications other than A levels are given more of a chance and that institutions improve support networks.

It also recognises the costs of recruiting and supporting non-traditional students.

David Fussey, chairman of Hefce's EQUALL committee, which is exploring issues of widening participation, said: "We can make most progress in the area of enhancing progression from FE into HE. Linked to that is the need to support students during transition."

He said Pounds 30 million was a good start but would not go far. Exactly how much money goes towards the scheme will be agreed in December.

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