Scheme to help poor students mapped in haste (UK)

By Jack Grove

A scheme brought in to address concerns over the impact of £9,000 tuition fees on students from poor backgrounds was designed in haste, an interim report on the project has said. The National Scholarship Programme was announced by the government in October 2010 – just weeks before the parliamentary vote on whether universities should be allowed to treble tuition fees.

Under the programme, which is worth £50 million in 2012-13, £100 million in 2013-14 and £150 million from 2014-15, students from families earning less than £25,000 a year will be able to apply for a one-off sum of £3,000 from the state. Universities charging more than £6,000 a year to full-time students are required to top up this support with £3,000 of their own funds, or offer the equivalent support to other eligible students.

However, a report commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England has criticised the programme’s design and recommended wide-ranging reforms. Written by the Widening Participation Research Centre at Edge Hill University and consultants CFE, the report, titled Formative Evaluation of the National Scholarship Programme, says the scheme’s creators were under pressure to design it quickly. “The NSP steering group felt the process had progressed rapidly, influenced by the need to get something in place soon after…reforms were announced,” the study says.

This urgency had limited the opportunity to learn from best practice in the UK and abroad, it adds. The report also highlights how demand for the programme is likely to outstrip funding, with many institutions only being able to offer the scheme to around half of their eligible students. Uncertainty about whether students will receive any support from the scheme may limit its role in attracting poor students into higher education, it says. David Willetts, the universities and science minister, told a committee of MPs on 12 June that he was committed to improving the programme, which is run by Hefce.

Source: Times Higher Education