Calls For A National Bursary Scheme

Serious shortcomings in how bursaries are awarded to students from poorer backgrounds have been highlighted in a report by an independent think tank.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) believes a national bursary scheme should be established to ensure that all disadvantaged university students receive the financial help they need.

The report points to the uneven distribution of poorer students across the higher education sector, saying this distorts the current market in bursaries.

Bahram Bekhradnia, director of Hepi, said: "The problem with the present arrangement, from the students' point of view, is what a poor student receives as a bursary has nothing to do with what their needs are. Instead, it's got everything to do with how many other poor students there are studying at the same university. If the bursaries a university has to give has to be distributed between more people, that means they then have a smaller value.

"With the same amount of money, less socially inclusive universities have fewer poor students to distribute money to, which means much bigger bursaries."

Mr Bekhradnia said that under current arrangements, there was an incentive for bright poor students to go to a university with fewer poor students because it meant a bigger bursary.

The Hepi report calls for a national bursary scheme which would offer a standard level of support to students on a means-tested basis.

This would be funded from pooled income from universities, with institutions passing their contributions directly to the government.

The review found that research intensive Russell Group universities would give bursaries of around £1,700 per student, other institutions gave bursaries of around £700. It argued that a national bursary scheme would mean equality between disadvantaged students and a simpler system.

Director general of Russell Group, Dr Wendy Piatt, said: "A national bursary system would create many losers and few winners as there would be relatively small increases to a standard bursary but many high-achieving, low-income students would lose out on substantial support currently available."

However the NUS said the report backed up what it had been saying for years, NUS president Wes Streeting, said: "The current system is complex and confusing.

"We need a single national bursary scheme, so that financial support is based on what students need, not where they study."

Bill Rammell, England's Minister for Higher Education, said it was for institutions themselves, subject to approval from Offa (the Office for Fair Access), to decide how to support their students.


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