Universities ‘face planning problems’ with grant letter delay

Universities face “difficulties” in planning student recruitment because of a row in government on whether to scrap funding for the poorest students.

January 23, 2014

The Higher Education Funding Council for England today announced that the delay in the annual grant letter means the announcement of universities’ 2014-15 student number controls, along with the publication of a key access strategy, have been postponed.

Hefce adds that it appreciates the delays “may cause some difficulties for your institution”.

Meanwhile, Philip Jones, the Sheffield Hallam University vice-chancellor, has written to Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg warning that a 60 per cent cut to the funding would “put at risk the range, breadth and nature” of university schemes including support for disabled students.

Vince Cable, the business secretary, told MPs yesterday that there was still no final decision on the future of the £322 million student opportunity fund.

Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, is reportedly pushing for the fund to be scrapped (with a 60 per cent cut another option being considered) as the Department for Business Innovation and Skills is required to make cuts to atone for an overspend.

The row means BIS has so far been unable to send the grant letter – which will outline funding for 2014-15 to the English sector – to Hefce.

The funding council says in its statement: “We regret that, due to the delayed receipt of Hefce’s grant letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, we have not been able to finalise our SASS [Strategies for Access and Student Success] guidance as originally planned and it will not be published on 23 January. Hefce will also not be able to issue provisional student number control allocations on 24 January.”

Professor Jones, in his letter to Mr Clegg, the Sheffield Hallam MP, says that the £6.9 million of student opportunity funding the university received in 2012-13 allowed it to “engage with 13,000 students, increasing their understanding of, and aspirations to progress to university”.

The funding also “supports projects that enable us to work with over 200 acutely disadvantaged learners”, he says.

“This group includes those with caring responsibilities and looked-after children, low income families, disabled students and those who, for cultural reasons, must study locally. As a result of this support, last year 48 per cent of this group progressed into the university.”

Professor Jones continues that £250,000 of the student opportunity funding was invested in services for students with disabilities, ensuring that these students “progress through each year of their course and achieve their academic potential”.

He concludes: “This university urges the government and the minister to protect this stream of funding which is building a fairer society for the future.”

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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