A report produced by the Office For Fair Access (OFFA) has found that almost £140m more was spent on attracting students from poorer backgrounds by universities in the UK in 2012-13, the academic year when annual tuition fees rose to £9,000.
In total, universities spent £1.2bn of the income they gained through government grants and tuition fees, which were increased on the condition that some of the money would be spent on attracting disadvantaged students. Of the extra £140m that was spent in 2012-2013, £61.5m was invested in outreach work, £30m was spent on financial support and £48m went towards a new scholarship programme.
However, the report also found that the top 20 per cent of young people from the most advantaged backgrounds were more than six times more likely to attend one of the most selective universities than their peers, with Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access, said: “There must be further, faster change at highly selective universities.”
Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of leading universities, also expressed concerns, saying: “We remain concerned that the Government’s access policies risk focusing too much on regulation and not enough on resolving the real problems. Investment by universities alone cannot solve the deeper causes of the under-representation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds – under-achievement at school and poor advice on the best choices of A-level subjects and university degree course.”
The rise in tuition fees sparked fears that students from poorer backgrounds would be deterred from applying to university. The number of applications for courses starting in 2012, the first year to be affected by the trebling of tuition fees, was 8.7 per cent lower than the previous year. However, this year saw a 4 per cent increase in the number of applications.
A University of York spokesman told Nouse: “Inclusivity is an important tenet for the University of York and we increased significantly our outreach and access measures for less advantaged students with the change in the fee arrangements in 2012. The percentage of our additional fee income spent on these measures increased from 20 per cent in 2011/12 to 31 per cent in 2012/13 and in that year we spent a total of £7.2M on outreach, student success and financial support for York students.
They went on to say: “We have launched two new flagship outreach programmes – Shine for school students in Years 6-11 and Next Step York for school students in Years 12-13 which are designed to raise aspiration in school students, help them to make the right choices through their school years and to prepare themselves for higher education. Following successful launches in 2013, these programmes are expanding to reach more schools and students from 2014 on. We continue to perform well in our inclusivity measures: In the current year, more than one in five of our undergraduate entrants came from households with a residual household income under £25,000 and we are close to or above our HESA benchmarks in all the key widening participation categories.”
Last year, controversy was caused when the University announced they would not be using their own funds to make up for the money lost through the Government’s cuts to the National Scholarship Programme. However, a subsequent social media campaign, ‘Plug The Gap’, convinced the University to reconsider their decision.