Quarter of universities miss target to recruit poorer students

29 Sep 11
More than three-quarters of English universities and colleges met their targets for recruiting students from low-income backgrounds last year, but some of the most prestigious institutions failed to do so.
By Mark Smulian | 29 September 2011

Almost one in four English universities and colleges failed to meet their targets for recruiting students from low-income backgrounds last year, including some of the most prestigious institutions.

Figures released today by the Office for Fair Access show that 77% of institutions either exceeded or met all targets for entrants from under-represented groups. However, those that did not included King’s College London, and the universities of Cambridge, Durham and Warwick.

The report said institutions spent £356m on bursaries in 2009/10 to support lower income students and other under-represented groups.

This was equivalent to 22.6% of the income they made from charging fees above the basic annual £1,285 level.

A further £38m was spent on outreach activities to widen participation in higher education, according to the report, Access agreement and wideningparticipation strategic assessment monitoring.

All universities and colleges were required to have access arrangements in place before being allowed to charge more than the basic fee, up to the maximum of £3,225.

Income from charging the permitted higher fees reached £1.57bn in 2009/10.

Offa’s definition of ‘lower income’ students eligible for support was a household income below £50,020.

More than 402,000 students received a bursary or scholarship in 2009/10, and some 75% of the total was spent on those from the poorest backgrounds.

Sir Martin Harris, director of fair access to higher education, said spending on access measures remained steady, but he said he was ‘concerned to understand the reasons why’ the remaining 23% of institutions had not met their targets.

Harris also warned that the experience of 2009/10 would not necessarily be a guide to what would happen when the new tuition fees regime takes effect in 2012/13, when the maximum fee cap will be lifted to £9,000.

‘We are very aware of concern about the potential impact on widening participation of both higher fees and the possible changes to the shape of the sector,’ he said.

‘We do not know how students, or institutions, will respond to the new arrangements.’


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