£200 million proposed Government cuts threaten student opportunity funds

Jocelyn Major 30 January 2014

Recent government proposals to cut higher education funds for disadvantaged students have been condemned by multiple universities across England.

The proposed cuts would affect the Student Opportunity Fund, which is designed to help universities widen access to students from less advantaged areas and provide financial support for them.

If the austerity plan is implemented, up to £200 million could be withdrawn from the programme, which currently costs £332 million. This would come as a government attempt to save money in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

The National Union of Students (NUS) has begun a campaign against the proposed cuts. Describing the role of the Student Opportunity Fund, NUS stated: “Student Opportunity Funding is fundamentally different from access funding, the majority of which is spent on necessary student financial support.”

The cuts would follow a £100 million cut to the National Scholarship Programme, leading to worries that progress towards social mobility in universities could be undermined.

Tony Pearce, president of NUS, said: “Cutting the Student Opportunity Fund is an absolute disgrace and, in the wake of cuts to the National Scholarship Programme, 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 in England 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.”

Talks about whether these cuts will be implemented are currently ongoing and the decision about the allocation of funds to the programme will be revealed in the government grant letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which will set out the funds given to higher education for 2014-15.

Speaking to HuffPost Live about his concern over the long-term effects of cutting funding to higher education, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said: “If we fail to invest in education today, you won’t feel the ills necessarily in three to five years, but you will feel them in the long term.

“[Schools in] some of the toughest areas … have never sent students to Cambridge or Oxford. They just don’t see this as an outcome of their educational experience.”

A first year English student at Queens’ commented, “If the funding cuts are implemented it will just be another obstacle for them to overcome in getting to their university of choice.”