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UNIVERSITIES - IMPROVED ACCESS FOR BRIGHT STUDENTS

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Education and employment secretary David Blunkett said today that ...
Education and employment secretary David Blunkett said today that

maintaining high standards in the quality of degrees and improving

access for bright students from disadvantaged backgrounds were at the

heart of his higher education agenda.

Mr Blunkett gave details of£150m to be spent over three years

to improve access for bright students from poorer backgrounds, as the

Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals met for their annual

conference at the University of Durham.

Mr Blunkett said that higher education would do well from the

Government's spending review, with total publicly planned funding up

from£5.4bn in 2000-01 to£5.8bn in 2001-02. The final

total additional allocation from the spending review announced in

July for 2001-02, including measures for widening access, is now£132m. This means that for the first time since 1986 funding per

student will rise. Higher education research will also benefit from

an increase in the UK science budget from£1.6bn in 2000-01 to

£1.8bn in 2001-02.

Mr Blunkett confirmed that, following the increase in the parental

contribution threshold for next year, around 50 per cent of students

will be exempt from paying any fees and will also be eligible for the

maximum loan. This is a substantial increase in the proportion of

families who will not have to contribute towards the cost of higher

education.

Mr Blunkett said:

'Higher education has been through many changes over the last three

decades, but there are still two important challenges which must be

redressed.

'The first is about standards, quality and student numbers. Let me

make it clear: there is no point in a degree if it does not require

hard work, intellectual rigour and breadth of knowledge in order to

achieve it. I know that vice-chancellors share that commitment, but

it is important that employers and the wider public understand it to

be the case too.

'Standards relate to student numbers and our plans for expansion.

There is still demand for places from well-qualified students. But we

must be sure that expansion is in the right areas.

'I want to see more students from schools and colleges who want to

study more vocational subjects. And more students who have spent time

in the workplace and need to improve their qualifications. That's

why we're developing the foundation degree. It's why most new places

are part-time. It's why we have improved financial support for mature

students, including making loans available to part-time students for

the first time.

'It's why we have extended Disabled Students' Allowances to part-time

students and now to postgraduate students, with up to£5,000 of non

means-tested allowance available from this autumn. And it's why our

aim is to increase the proportion of people going to university by

the age of 30 from over 43 per cent now to 50 per cent by the end of

the decade. By addressing expansion in this practical manner, I am

confident that we can maintain and, whereneeds be, improve

standards.

'The second issue is about how we get more bright students from

poorer backgrounds to consider going to our leading universities. I

commend the efforts of universities, including Oxford and Cambridge,

over the last two years and hope that they will ensure more suitably

qualified state pupils get the chance to go to university.

'There is still more to do. I am not interested in seeing entry

requirements reduced for courses or some form of patronising positive

discrimination for working class pupils. What I am interested in is

doing more to link universities and schools through Excellence in

Cities and through summer schools and other opportunities to

understand each other better.

'The problem in the past has been as much about teachers not

understanding the requirements of universities or the potential of

their best students, as it has been an assumption in universities

that pupils from inner city comprehensives wouldn't make the grade.

These attitudes are changing on both sides, and the package I am

announcing today will help to foster further change.

'Today's package, 'The Excellence Challenge,' provides£33m in

2001-02, rising to£56m in 2002-03 and£62m in 2003-04. It:

brings universities and colleges into our Excellence in Cities

initiative to provide additional support for young people who have

the talent;

increases funding to universities and colleges to reach out to more

young people from disadvantaged backgrounds;

provides clearer information and better marketing of the route to

higher education for young people, with a particular focus on

reaching families and communities who do not have a tradition of

going to university, raising expectations for students and teachers

alike; and

pilots new forms of extra financial help for bright young people

from disadvantaged backgrounds.

'Part of the programme will channel funds directly to universities

and colleges to enable them to recruit more admissions staff, send

ambassadors to schools and colleges and to run more open days and

summer schools for young people and their teachers. For 'high demand'

universities, there will be a 'something for something' package which

will work with funds spent by them to tackle issues of wider access.

'We made difficult choices three years ago on university funding.

Those changes were right - we are now able to see the benefits with

better funding for universities, more money for research, increased

support per student, and money to support rewards for good teaching

in universities.

'I am also pleased to confirm today that as a result of our review of

income thresholds for payment of fees, around half of university

students will be exempt from the fee from September 2001 and will be

entitled to the full subsidised loan.

'We are also providing more targeted access funds through

universities and colleges to assist young people in considering their

options. From2001/02, Opportunity Bursaries will be piloted in

Excellence in Cities areas, with students from low income families

who have little or no experience of higher education, to encourage

more of them to apply for university. Bursaries of£2,000 each will

be available, paid in instalments over the course, to help meet the

initial costs of starting an HE course, as well as providing

financial confidence to complete it. In addition to the Bursaries, we

will also provide funds to help meet the costs of applying to

University, such as travel and accommodation, where able young people

are attending interviews.

'I hope the university sector will now join with us in examining ways

to gain the maximum value for money from the investment being made,

including carrying forward the proposals in my Greenwich speech

earlier this year and responding to the economic challenge of

innovation and outreach. Much remains to be done on career advice and

positive outcome measures to equip young people for the challenging

world of tomorrow.'

Mr Blunkett also welcomed a Concordat announced by the Committee of

Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the Joint Associations Curriculum

Group: 'I hope that through this agreement schools' colleges and

universities will work together and explore new ways to encourage

young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to participate in higher

education. I am particularly pleased to see the sector aiming to

build young people's confidence to aspire to higher education.,

NOTES

1. The government's aim is that, by 2010, 50% of young people should

have the opportunity of experiencing Higher Education by the age of

30.

2. On 25 January 2000, the secretary of state announced that the

income threshold at which parents begin to make a contribution would

rise from£17,370 in 1999/00 to£20,000 in 2001/02. He also announced

a package of additional support for mature students, including

bursaries of up to£1,000 and a new school meals grant in 2000/01,

and a Childcare grant from September 2001. Under the

current support arrangements it is estimated that 33% of those

students who are financially dependent on their parents and 85% of

independent students, 44% overall, are assessed to make no

contribution towards fees and are eligible for the maximum loan. The

new policies aimed at widening access should increase the overall

proportion who contribute nothing to 50%. Baroness Blackstone

announced in December 1999 that Disabled Students, Allowances would

be extended to part-time students from September 2000.

The extension to postgraduate students was announced in the secretary

of state's speech to the Association of University Teachers on 10 May

2000. Loans of£500 for part-time students are available

for the first time for those already on or beginning courses from

this autumn.

3. On 18 July, the secretary of state announced increased funding

for higher education in England worth at least #100 million next year

(PN 334/00). This has now been increased to a total of #132m to

support higher education, including measures to widen access. The

#132m consists of #50m for HE pay, #33m for a new access package for

young people (part of the Excellence Challenge), #5m for Foundation

Degree prototypes, and some #14m for e-universities, #15m for

restructuring and collaboration, and #15m for financial support

measures mainly for mature students. Not all of this money will go

direct to higher education institutions: around #15m of the #33m for

the Excellence Challenge will support joint activity by schools,

colleges and universities to raise standards, financial support

measures and a national information campaign; and some of the funding

for financial support for mature students may be channelled through

the student support system.

4. Current assumptions on unit funding per student are that the

real terms increase in 2001-02 will be around 0.5%.

5. Higher education research across the UK benefits from the

Science Budget administered by the Office of Science and Technology

(OST). Part of the budget goes to fund the Research Councils - which

in turn use of much of their funding to support higher education

research. Other parts of the Science Budget also support HE, for

example the new Science Research Investment Fund in 2002-03 and

2003-04, to which OST will contribute #375m for HE infrastructure

alongside #300m from the DfEE. The total science budget is #1638m in

2000-01. The Spending Review settlement announced increases to #1776m

in 2001-02, #1920m in 2002-03, and #2165m in 2003-04.

6. The Excellence Challenge programme will provide universities,

colleges and schools with #151m over three years from 2001 to

increase representation in higher education of talented young people

from more disadvantaged backgrounds. This includes #20m for widening

access measures announced as part of the Spending Review settlement

on 18 July 2000. The #151m includes #8m in each year to allow the

continuation of pilots on summer schools and the enhancement of the

HEFCE poor postcodes premium. It is in addition to #20m previously

set aside for the postcode premium (which covers the extra costs of

recruiting and retaining students from low participation backgrounds)

and #30m over 3 years previously set aside for Opportunity Bursaries.

7. A new Consultation Document, 'The Excellence Challenge' contains

four proposed strands:

Extended Excellence in Cities partnerships - in each of the 47

Excellence in Cities areas, schools will work with colleges and

universities to provide a programme of extra support for able young

people including those in Gifted & Talented programmes.

Action by universities - each higher education institution will

receive support for summer schools, recruitment officers, better

links to schools, FE colleges and sixth forms to improve their

recruitment.

Clearer information for young people - aged 13 and above and their

parents about the costs and benefits of higher education, so that

they have all the facts at an early age.

Individual Financial Support - #4m has been added to the #30m

already earmarked to provide 6,000 Opportunity Bursaries in 2001,

rising to 10,000 new Bursaries in 2003. Payments of #1,000 in the

first year and #500 in subsequent years will help meet costs such as

buying books and equipment, travel and deposits for accommodation.

#3m has been set aside for bonus payments of #100 to be piloted

alongside Educational Maintenance Allowances for year 13 pupils in

some EiC areas, to help towards the costs of applying for University.

8. Media copies of the consultation document are available free

from the DfEE press office on the numbers below. Other copies can be

ordered through DfEE Publications on 0845 602 2260 or by e-mail -

dfee@prolog.uk.com quoting reference DFEE 206/2000.

9. At present only 28% of entrants to HE are from disadvantaged

backgrounds (social classes iii-manual, iv and v) a figure which has

changed little during the 1990s (UCAS figures). 65% of those pupils

obtaining 3A grades at A Level in 1999 were from the state sector

(comprehensives, grammar, grant maintained and colleges) compared to

35% from the independent sector. Of those entering Oxford or

Cambridge in 1999 with 30 A Level points, 52% came from the state

sector compared to 48% from the Independent sector (UCAS figures).

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