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.