Urban centres lose out in the allocation of access cash

Rural areas gain as AimHigher redirects funding to address imbalance. Melanie Newman reports

February 28, 2008

Metropolitan areas 
Tees Valley-20 per cent
Tyne and Wear -20 per cent
Greater Merseyside-19 per cent
East London-19 per cent
Rural areas 
Sussex+74 per cent
Hampshire and the Isle of Wight+58 per cent
Northamptonshire +56 per cent
Deprived urban regions of the country are facing large cuts in funding for widening university participation while rural areas are in line for substantial increases.

Funding allocations for the AimHigher access initiative for 2008-11, published this month, show that Sussex will receive £1.6 million to spend on improving access - a 74 per cent increase on its 2007 allocation of just over £900,000. Hampshire and the Isle of Wight are to receive a 58 per cent increase.

Meanwhile, AimHigher funding for the Tees Valley will be cut by 20 per cent, from £2 million to £1.6 million. Tyne and Wear and Greater Merseyside will see a similar reduction. East London faces a 19 per cent cut, and Greater Manchester 17 per cent.

Emy Onuora, director of AimHigher Greater Merseyside, said: "I can't understand how they came up with a formula that gives Sussex that level of increase while cutting funds to Greater Merseyside and other urban areas. It just doesn't make sense to me."

Greater Merseyside had one of the country's lowest university participation rates, and its schools had low GCSE attainment rates, he said.

Angela Jorgenson, Tees Valley AimHigher project manager, said: "While generally Tees Valley is considered to be an urban area, there are in fact large rural pockets, such as East Cleveland, with significant levels of deprivation. Account does not appear to have been taken of such discrepancies."

A source for Bedfordshire and Luton, which will see a 6.5 per cent cut, said: "There will potentially be more funding available at Leamington Spa than Luton."

Since 2004, AimHigher funding has been distributed using a formula that combines two factors: academic achievement at age 16 and participation in higher education.

Guidance from the Higher Education Funding Council for England published last week explains that between 2004 and 2006 there was extra access funding available because it inherited money from earlier widening-participation initiatives.

When the extra funding was exhausted, allocations were "smoothed" so that regions did not experience large cuts in funding. Smoothing was still required in 2008-11 because if the formula were applied directly some regions would lose out on an "unmanageable scale", the Hefce guidance said.

Hefce has guaranteed that, whatever the formula dictates, no AimHigher area will lose more than a fifth of its funding by 2011.

Kevin Whitston, Hefce's head of widening participation, said: "The application of the formula will have the effect of moving some money from big metropolitan centres to non-metropolitan areas. This is a partial correction to address an imbalance in funding over the years."

Urban areas were still getting "substantially more funding" than the formula said they should in 2008-11, he added. If the formula were applied without "smoothing", Greater Merseyside would be facing a 30 per cent cut in funding by 2011, rather than a 20 per cent drop.

Mr Whitston added that Hefce analysts had experimented with several measures of need, including social class and child poverty, before they came up with the formula.

"Whichever measures we used, the pattern of funding didn't change," he said. If we had used higher education participation alone, there would have been a much bigger shift of funding out of metropolitan areas."


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