Shellard backs bid to save student opportunity fund

A vice-chancellor has backed those fighting to save funding for poorer students that is under extra pressure now research money is said to be “safe”

January 17, 2014

The whole of the £3 million student opportunity allocation to institutions, attached to the poorest students, is said to be under threat in talks over cuts to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills budget.

Dominic Shellard, the De Montfort University vice-chancellor, has been using his Twitter account to argue the case for the funding. He also “led a lunchtime student protest” on campus, according to the university.

The future of the funding will be made clear in the 2014-15 grant letter from BIS to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which will be sent once the budget talks are concluded.

On Wednesday, the Treasury was reportedly indicating that the science and research budget was safe, according to one source with knowledge of the talks.

If that is the case, it is likely to spell bad news for student opportunity funding. Cuts are being required of BIS as it grapples with a £1.4 billion overspend, caused by the stronger than expected bounceback in student numbers, along with a failure to control student numbers at private providers.

At De Montfort, the student opportunity allocation brings £4.7 million year.

Professor Shellard said: “DMU has a great tradition of widening participation, social inclusion and fair access so any proposed cuts that would diminish our provision of outreach activity, disability support, counselling and careers would be of great concern to us.”

On Twitter, Professor Shellard described how a job swap day with the students’ union president had coincided with the news that the funding was under threat.

“As acting DSU President today leading a demo against cuts to Student Opportunity Fund,” he Tweeted on 16 January.

“Can’t believe my jobswap has coincided with a student demo in an excellent cause. To defend the Student Opportunities Fund,” he added.

He also said on the site: “If it’s true that the Treasury is pushing to abolish the Student Opportunity Fund in its entirety from 2014, that would be terribly damaging.”

And he added: “It’s tremendous that David Willetts [the universities and science minister] is fighting against what would prove to be a hugely regressive step.”

The National Union of Students has also mounted a campaign on social media using the hashtag #SaveStudentOpportunities to urge against cutting the funding

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