Clegg Sparks Confusion Over New Bursary System

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Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has sparked confusion today at a rally outside Southampton General Hospital after describing his plans for University bursaries. Talking to the Wessex Scene, Clegg proposed a new system where more resources are given to universities with high numbers of students who qualify for a bursary and less is allocated to the universities where fewer students qualify. While Clegg said this would be ‘much fairer’, this is not immediately apparent from the plans, which seem to imply he will make it more difficult to get a bursary at a University with a record of affluent students.

In answer to the question “what will happen to bursaries if tuition fees are scrapped”, Clegg told the Wessex Scene,

At the moment bursaries aren’t administered fairly, basically they’re given in exactly the same way to every university, not reflecting the different in take of those Universities. What we will do is give those universities that take in a greater number of students who need bursaries greater flexibility and greater resources for those bursaries, and those universities who have fewer students who need bursaries will get fewer resources for their bursaries. So basically we’ll make the bursary system much, much fairer.

These comments come in the wake of University of Southampton student, Chloe Green, grilling David Cameron over his plans to provide support for poorer students, something which seems to be turning into a key election issue for the student population.

Currently over 200,000 students receive a bursary on the basis of their family income. While university by university statistics are not available, it is fair to assume that institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge, with high numbers of public school students, pay out less, while campuses which draw the majority of their students from state schools pay out more. At face value, splitting the bursary system in the way Clegg has proposed would encourage lower income students to apply to universities who are allocated ‘greater resources’, and avoid those which are not. In short therefore, the system could make it more difficult for low income students to go to the best universities.

Sandra Gidley, Lib Dem MP for Romsey and Southampton North rejected this analysis. She stuck to Clegg’s line that it would produce a ‘fairer system’ where it was ‘easier for poor students to go to University’. The concern remains however that it may limit their choices as to which one they go to.

Clegg has gained great support from the student population over recent months, particularly with the reintroduction of the policy to scrap tuition fees. However many students will be asking for more clarity on this issue from the party who have targeted their vote and who they have now decided to support.

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Discussion3 Comments

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    I think what he means is that currently there is a pot of money for bursaries given equally to all institutions, however some institutions actually have more students who would qualify for a bursary than others. Under their proposed scheme, the Universities with more students who qualify for bursaries, would be given more money, so that the pot of money would be given out proportionally, rather than giving all institutions the same.

    I’m not sure how they would administer this though – perhaps they would allocate bursary money each year? Otherwise, as you say, it would stop students from a lower income coming to those institutions which didn’t have the greater resources.

    Chris Houghton
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    I think it’s fundamentally a good idea… if they can pull it off. This is the case with a lot of the Liberal policies – they’re very ambitious, almost over-ambitious.

    Peter Apps
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    Becky- yeah, my thoughts too. If it is a year by year change of allocation, then that could work, although I’m not sure whether it would change the system from the way it is now. The language he and Sandra Gidley were using though implied that it would be done by looking at where poor students ARE and giving them the funding, not looking at where they will be.
    And also, you need to wait until the students have applied, been accepted and been financially assessed before you can work out the allocation, so I think it would have to be at least one year behind (ie, number of students who qualify for a bursary in 2009 determines the avaliability of funding for the 2010 in take). That would still be a problem although a more minor one.
    Its not very clear what exactly the plans mean, hence the title of the article.

    Should stress though, he talked about a lot of other stuff which was very positive, especially his NHS policies. There should be an article coming soon about that. The only reason this gets special treatment is because its exclusive and directly student focused.

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