This “genius” is talking about the Student Opportunity Fund. This is a pot of money that currently sits at £327m (More a treasure chest than a pot!) and it used to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds access Higher Education. its fate will be decided tomorrow (Published on 21/01/14) after reports that the LibDem Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander, is in favour of scrapping the whole thing. Yep, you read that right, he wants to scrap all £327m of it.
It was initially reported that £200m would be cut from the fund, but it has been confirmed the whole lot is now on the chopping block. The fund (Previously known as the Widening Participation Grant) is used by Bis to pay Universities that recruit students from Disadvantaged backgrounds via the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)
Luck for us the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis) haven’t yet “gone full retard” and as a result this plan hasn’t yet passed. There has been a stalemate between Danny and Bis over the proposal to cut the fund for a little while now. Instead David Cameron, George Osborne, Danny and our old chum Nick Clegg are planning to meet and set out final plans on how to fill the Bis funding deficit. Its expected that Danny Alexander will keep on pushing for the cuts to the fund.
These plans come after a £100m cut was made to the National Scholarship Program (NSP). The NSP is another HEFCE program that supported social mobility and helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds. All though the NSP still stand (…100m lighter) the Student Opportunity Fund also needs to remain because it is used to boost retention rates, supporting people fund their study through the length of the course rather than just access one and it is often used to fund support networks and staff for disabled students as well. Why anyone would think that cutting such a vital fund so heavily, or even stopping it all together was an acceptable idea is beyond me! To put it into perspective, the fund was worth around £2m at the institution I studied at and its probably grown since then. so to cut that funding would have real negative effects. What services, if any, would get cut to help plug the hole?!
Institutions like the Open University will be the hardest hit, their whole mission statement revolves around social mobility “The Open University’s mission is to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.” A quote taken from the guardian confirms their concerns over the plans.
“Social mobility is central to the government’s ambitions and the OU’s mission, so it is deeply concerning to see reports that funding for students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds may be cut … The OU is incredibly proud of its track record of helping these students realise their potential and go on to make a strong contribution to the UK economy. The prime minister and his cabinet colleagues must be careful that any spending decisions will not reduce the life chances of the most vulnerable in our society.”
I was fortunate enough to meet with the president of the National Union of Students (NUS), Toni Pearce, earlier this week and while we didn’t talk about this subject (Because we were too busy talking about the right of disabled students and what Unions and Universities can do to support them!) she has recently spoken about it through the NUS website, and I couldn’t agree with her thoughts more.
“Cutting the Student Opportunity Fund is an absolute disgrace … looks like the Government is backtracking on its commitment to support social mobility in favour of balancing the books on the backs of the poor.”
“We already know that young people from the most advantaged neighbourhoods … are still three times more likely to enter higher education than those from the most disadvantaged. Unfortunately, the Government’s sustained attacks on our education system do nothing to help young people with the financial practicalities of staying in college and moving onto higher education.”
I think the most powerful of points she made was “When the Government is lavishing funds on for profit providers, it is particularly outrageous that it is once again stripping away opportunities from the poorest students.”
If you want to follow the campaign check out #SaveStudentOpportunities on Twitter and facebook. And feel free to be part of the campaign like these guys!
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