Website finds courses to suit student pockets

March 11, 2005

An online ready reckoner that tells students which university would best suit their pocket is being developed by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service with university partners.

The one-stop shop will allow applicants to see how much they can get in grants and bursaries, as well as give them fee information and the entry qualifications required to gain a place.

Financial information for the website will be garnered from the access agreements published next week by the Office for Fair Access.

While fees are unlikely to vary much across the sector, with nearly all institutions expected to charge £3,000 a year (the maximum allowed), there will be considerable variation in terms of the bursaries, scholarships and other forms of student support offered. Much of this will be means tested and subject to students meeting other criteria.

Sir Martin Harris, director of Offa, said: "Students need clear guidance as to what universities are offering, but it's not for Offa to tamper with or modify what universities submit.

"So where does a student go most readily, most logically? Where do they go to for the clearest possible statement as to what they need to get if they read a certain subject at a certain university? It leads to Ucas.

"By working together, we can offer data that can be used by Ucas, checked by the universities and made available in as comparable a form as possible.

And I welcome that."

Ucas has been developing the website with the universities of the West of England, Surrey, Portsmouth and Kingston, along with City of Bristol College. Funding has come from the Department for Education and Skills and the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The team is creating a database of national and local information on hardship funds and an online self-assessment system for all students - full-time and part-time, undergraduate and postgraduate - to determine their potential financial support package.

Neil Harrison, project manager within the centre for student affairs at UWE, said: "The key thing is to give students certainty about their financial circumstances. (This project) promotes informed decisions about their educational future.

"Students are involved in a constant process of juggling to make ends meet.

They are expected to juggle part-time work with money from their family and other sources while trying to concentrate on their degree.

"The student funds website will make sure they are getting everything they are entitled to, which is especially important for non-traditional students."

The Ucas site was welcomed by student leaders. Kat Fletcher, president of the National Union of Students, said: "A great deal of confusion continues to surround the financial situation for new students in 2006. Top-up fees seem to represent a leap in the dark for all involved - from parents and students to institutions and lecturers - Jso any efforts to try to make things clearer are to be welcomed.

"Providing a gateway for prospective students to be able to access all information on student support will be a crucial tool to aid widening participation, as it is the non-traditional students who are likely to receive their support through the most complex of funding sources.

Anthony McClaran, chief executive of Ucas, said: "Ucas is helping to prepare for variable fees in 2006 by enabling institutions to include fee and bursary information with the details they already send about their courses. Students currently search by institutions, subject and entry requirements. We believe that in the future they will add fees and bursaries to their list of key criteria."

www.uwe.ac.uk/csa/sfap/ alison.goddard@thes.co.uk

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