The National Scholarship Programme’s funding for the 2014/15 academic year has been cut from £150 million to £50 million. This reduction will see the University of Exeter’s allocation reduced from £1.17million to £390,000. The minimum overall value of bursaries that students can be awarded will change from £3,000 to £2,000. Exeter’s Students’ Guild has “strongly condemned” the actions announced by the Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE) last week, stating that the cut “will directly impact on the students with the greatest financial needs”.
The National Scholarship Programme (NSP) is a government scheme which gives financial help to students studying undergraduate courses in England. First year students who have a household income of £16,000 or less are eligible for the programme at Exeter, which provides financial assistance in the form of fee waivers and bursaries.
The University has been asked to confirm their financial support arrangements by 16 December and is currently in discussions about what these arrangements will be.
All English universities were informed of the NSP changes through an open letter from HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council England) on 28 November.
In a response to the letter, the Students’ Guild said: “Alongside the cut, there was an announcement that the minimum overall value of bursaries for students has been downgraded from £3,000 to £2,000 which, in real terms, will most likely represent a cut to the bursaries many of our poorest students receive. The Students’ Guild strongly condemns these actions, which will directly impact on the students with the greatest financial needs”.
The Guild have also expressed their frustration at HEFCE’s justification for cutting two thirds of the NSP. The statement says: “We are also frustrated by the rhetoric used to justify these cuts, and the suggestion that the removal of £100 million funding will provide ‘more valuable ways of widening access’. The lack of consultation with students nationally and locally on this decision is truly shocking, especially when considering that applications have already begun and many students have already applied to the University of Exeter”.
HEFCE’s open letter claims that the programme is now more flexible for students than before. The letter justifies reducing the minimum level award available to students to £2,000 by stating that the lower figure will ensure that their original ‘estimate’ of 100,000 students benefiting from the award is still a possibility.
The letter says: “To make the programme more flexible for students in this transition year, we have removed the £1,000 limit on the amount of the award that can be given in the form of cash. We have also reduced the minimum level of award for full time students to £2,000, which means that 100,000 students could still receive an award, in line with our original estimate”.
Questions have been raised over whether it would be more suitable to allocate less bursaries of a higher value rather than cutting the minimum level of the award and allocating to the same amount of students.
Megan Furborough, a third year English student, said: “Reducing the amount of monetary aid available to the poorest students at a time of ever-increasing living costs and £9,000 fees is appalling, and so it is reassuring that the Guild are condemning this action. There is no easy route to take regarding the allocation of bursaries following these cuts, but what is important is that students do not become further victims of educational disadvantage due to their financial situations”.
Exeposé have been assured that discussions between the Guild and the University regarding the cut to the programme “began immediately”.
Alex Louch, VP Academic Affairs, said: “I am deeply concerned and frustrated by the immediacy of these cuts to the National Scholarship Programme, which will impact on the financial support package available to Exeter students from households with an income below £16,000. I am pleased that the University approached the Students’ Guild immediately to begun discussions about this issue and we are working to ensure that bursary allocation for students of the lowest income backgrounds will not reduce”.
Professor Janice Kay, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education said: “We are considering what we will do and are in discussions with the Guild to ensure that the impact on students wishing to study at Exeter is minimised and that we continue to provide excellent financial support to our students, particularly those from the lowest income backgrounds. However, we are not yet in a position to confirm what the future arrangements will be; we want to assure our students and applicants to Exeter that, in spite of the announcement last week, we are deeply committed to reducing as far as possible financial barriers to studying at Exeter”.
Currently over 750 first year students at Exeter are receiving support through the NSP. However, the numbers eligible for the programme vary so figures could change next year when the cuts take effect.
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