The government must pay universities more to recruit and retain poor students if it is to reach its 50 per cent participation target by 2010, according to a new report, writes Alan Thomson.
The report, A New Era in Student Demand - an Independent View by financial services company KPMG, says that the target set two years ago will be achieved only if cash is pumped into widening participation schemes aimed at the poorest people.
It says that cost is preventing universities from recruiting and retaining more students from poor backgrounds. New universities suffer more than pre-1992 institutions because they have more poor students. Poor students cost more to recruit and tend to need more academic and pastoral support.
The report recommends increasing the current 5 per cent premium, paid to institutions for each student they recruit from a poor postcode area, to 20 per cent.
The KPMG report says: "Accommodating students who come to higher education via non-traditional educational routes can require a higher level of investment in order for them to benefit from higher education, such as higher staff-to-student ratios."
The report says that cash for widening participation must form part of universities' core funding and not be treated as a marginal cost.
The prospect of student debt is a major deterrent for poor people, according to the report. It says the government review of student support could help overcome this problem. The results of the review are due next year but will not take effect until 2003 at the earliest.
Making it easier for people to study at institutions near their homes and enabling people to combine their studies with paid work or other responsibilities, like childcare, also need to be addressed, the KPMG report says.
It lists barriers to access in four main areas: awareness and aspiration raising; information, guidance and advice; collaboration and involvement of further education colleges and schools; and student financial support.
* Fear of debt and financial hardship are the main reasons able state-school pupils from poor backgrounds do not apply to university, according to a survey of teachers carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research.
It shows that four out of five of the 766 state-school teachers who responded said their pupils were worried about the cost of going on to higher education.