Universities plan to spend three quarters of the income they gain from top-up fees on staff and facilities, with some institutions handing little more than a tenth of the extra cash to needy students, The Times Higher can reveal.
More than £300 million will be available in 2006, when top-ups are introduced, for staff pay, pensions and recruitment, and to improve infrastructure. This will rise to almost £950 million in 2010.
Many academics in English universities will be surprised by the windfall - almost two thirds of lecturers surveyed last year by The Times Higher said that top-ups would not help them to perform better in their jobs.
The Times Higher used the Freedom of Information Act to extract detail from the Office for Fair Access about how much money each institution hopes to raise from top-ups and data on how much each intends to spend on student support and access efforts. Overall, English universities expect to raise £430 million in 2006. Total fee income will rise to £1.26 billion in 2010.
In 2006, universities will on average spend 29 per cent of this money on new bursaries and outreach activities. This will fall to 25 per cent by 2010. Universities will spend the remainder as they wish, and vice-chancellors have said that priorities will include improving pay and campus facilities.
Union leaders welcomed the news. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "If it is planned to use about 30 per cent of top-ups for bursaries, that would suggest institutions will have the money to sort out pay structures."
Roger Kline, head of universities at lecturers' union Natfhe, said the money should be used to recruit staff to support students. "It is a waste of time having incentives to bring students into institutions without having incentives to retain and develop them," he said.
The response from student leaders was muted. Kat Fletcher, president of the National Union of Students, said: "The Government has said that top-up fees go hand in hand with making higher education more accessible by improving student support systems. But these figures suggest that this might not be the case. They also suggest that top-up fees is not a policy with the interests of students at heart or one that looks to get the most disadvantaged students into higher education."
The survey reveals huge variations in the proportion of the new money that will be spent on bursaries and outreach activities.
The University of Central Lancashire's access agreement states that 78 per cent of the money will go to fund bursaries and outreach work. Malcolm McVicar, the vice-chancellor, said the amount had been revised and put the eventual figure closer to 55 per cent.
At the other end of the scale, Anglia Polytechnic University will spend just 11 per cent of the cash on student support and raising aspirations. A spokesman said that figure underestimated APU's true generosity because cash that went to students who were not classified as underrepresented did not count as part of the access agreement.
Sir Martin Harris, director of Offa, warned that the figures had to be treated with care because some access spending was excluded from the Offa agreements. He also hinted that those institutions that were too generous to students might need to revise their arrangements.