Elite unis press Westminster to cut funding for poorer students

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The SNP has reiterated its commitment to free access to Higher Education as it has been revealed today that elite universities south of the border are privately urging UK ministers to cut funding to support students from less wealthy backgrounds.

Vice-chancellors of the Russell Group universities have called for student bursaries to be scaled back by the UK government at the next spending review. Such a move would result in huge cuts to the £332 million in grant funding for disadvantaged undergraduates.

Vice-chancellors of Russell Group of universities, which includes the leading universities in the country, have told UK ministers that student bursaries should be reduced with the savings going to protect research funding.  If adopted, the measure would mean cuts of £332 million to grants for disadvantaged undergraduates.

Although access to university education has broadened in recent decades, two thirds of the Russell Group members have recruited more privately educated undergraduates last year than in the previous year. These universities fear that protecting the bursaries of the poorest students will not benefit them financially as fewer students from poor backgrounds attend these institutions.

The Russell Group universities say that the priority ought to be protecting the UK’s £4.6 billion science budget. The budget was ringfenced in 2011, but may face cuts in the next spending review.  Research funding is increasingly concentrated in the few universities represented by the Russell Group, whereas grants for student support tend to go disproportionately to newer institutions which attract a more diverse student body.

Commenting, SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell who convenes the Education and Culture Committee said:

“This news is simply the latest example of the stark contrast in approaches between Westminster and the Scottish Government.

“Universities south of the border are now being forced to make a choice between access and quality of education as tuition fees continue to soar under increasing budget pressures imposed on educational institutions by the Westminster system.

“Thankfully in Scotland we have an SNP Government that has maintained free university education. Scottish universities do not have to make this sacrifice, and our on-going commitment to widening access to higher education – opposed by Labour in Scotland – means that no student will be denied this opportunity for financial reasons.

“In Scotland we support people from all backgrounds to go to university and invest in our institutions to ensure they remain among the best in the world. That investment is paying off as Scottish students continue to fulfil their ambition of a university education.

“Westminster should follow Scotland’s example and restore the principle of education based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.”