Government urged to turn better higher education access into more opportunities

The Government should reward progress on widening access to higher education by allowing institutions to recruit more students, the higher education representative body GuildHE said today.

Responding to the annual review of university and college access agreements from the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), Alice Hynes, GuildHE’s chief executive, said:

“It is very encouraging to see the significant progress that institutions made last year in providing a wide range of bursaries and scholarships for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and under-represented groups, and in raising awareness of these awards and increasing take-up of them.

“Unfortunately, the moratorium on additional student numbers recently imposed by the Government is having the effect of limiting institutions’ ability to build on this success by attracting and admitting more of these kinds of students. This is leading to a situation where, having raised the aspirations of many who could benefit from higher education, we are now having to turn them away.

“This latest report from OFFA clearly demonstrates that institutions are prepared to put their money where their mouth is on widening access to higher education. Perhaps it is time for the Government to do the same and help more people realise their full potential.”
Overall, GuildHE institutions spent nearly £13 million of their additional fee income on bursaries, scholarships, and outreach work in 2007/08 – representing around a quarter of the total. Almost 45 per cent of undergraduates in GuildHE institutions held bursaries or scholarships last year.

Newman University College spent nearly half of its additional fee income on bursaries and scholarships (47.9 per cent) – a higher proportion than any other institution in England. It also had the second highest proportion of bursary and scholarship holders among those of its undergraduates who were from low income families (73 per cent).

Pamela Taylor, Principal of Newman University College, said: “Financial hardship should not prevent individuals from realising their potential and making a significant contribution to society. It is essential, particularly at this difficult time, to enable talented and able people to flourish.”

Professor Stuart Billingham, Pro Vice-Chancellor of York St John University, which last year spent a third of its additional fee income on scholarships and bursaries for students from low income and under-represented groups, said: “York St John is very pleased to have achieved a good take up of student bursaries from those on lower incomes.”

He added: “There are many things to celebrate in today’s OFFA report, but I am concerned that the constraints on student growth will impact significantly on our continuing ability to respond flexibly to the expectations which our success has built up.”