Needy students in Britain were left sweating after a university and science minister surprisingly announced a cut in sponsorship set to take effect from next autumn. The move comes just after another department claimed it had lost control of its budget.
Universities and science minister David Willetts said in a shock announcement that the £150 million National Scholarship Programme (NSP) would be reduced to £50 million in the coming year. Providing awards worth £3,000 to undergraduates from households earning £25,000 or less, the scheme was due to remain in place next year and be replaced by a new £50 million scholarship scheme for postgraduates from 2015-16 under plans announced in June's Spending Review.
Willetts said cuts would now come into effect from next autumn, with just £50 million available to potential applicants in a written statement to Parliament on 28 November. Support worth £2,000 will be received by students applying for the scheme in 2014-15 though the £1,000 cap on cash payments has been lifted. Students at post-1992 universities are among the biggest losers from the cuts, with allocations for the universities of Anglia Ruskin, Bedfordshire, Brighton, Central Lancashire, Derby, De Montfort and East London among those falling by more than £1 million next year. Les Ebdon, director of access, said the cuts were "disappointing", but emphasized that spending by institutions from their higher fee income would not be reduced.
"It's important to emphasize that the government contribution to the NSP is only a small part of the total financial support available to students," he said.
According to Jack Grove of THE, universities will also be required to re-submit their access agreements to the Office for Fair Access, which were signed off in July, given the change in resources available to institutions. They have until 16 December to alter the agreements to reflect the lower NSP allocations.
Professor Ebdon added that he was "relieved" that the £332 million Student Opportunity Allocation – otherwise known as the "widening participation premium" – distributed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England for outreach work and educating poorer students – had not been cut.
A one-off £25 million to improve collaborative outreach among universities has also been announced in Mr. David's statement. Head of AccessHE, which organizes collaborative outreach in London, Graeme Atherton, said that the new support is "extremely welcome", calling for universities to "build on the collaborative networks that exist to avoid duplications and waste of resources". The shock announcement on the NSP follows claims that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has "lost control of its budget" after a higher-than-expected number of taxpayer-backed entrants to private colleges, which are not subject to student number controls.
Mr. David in his statement said that the "decision was based on evaluation which has shown that there are more valuable ways of widening access and enlarging the choices students make about higher education through the negotiated access agreements of universities".