In the 2017 Exeter University Prospectus, students are greeted by the promise: “We are committed to attracting the best and brightest students and providing you with all the support and facilities you need to realise your potential”. This sentiment appears to offer hope and security to those wishing to fulfil further education, regardless of their background. Surely therefore, we would assume that such sentiment would not just facilitate but actively encourage those from less financially fortunate circumstances, to prosper at the university, especially at a time when there has been a 27% increase of student burden placed on parents. Unfortunately, Exeter provides the worst low household income support out of all of the Russell Group institutions.
In its current state, students who come from households which earn between £16,001-£25,000 are provided with £1,000 every year. Those from households earning less than £16,000 per year are entitled to £2,000 in the first year with £1,500 in the second and third.
The Chamberlain Award is the University of Birmingham’s equivalent to the Access to Exeter bursary, offering students the security to “manage your finances throughout your university life and beyond”, according to its 2017 prospectus. It certainly achieves this. Not only does it begin assessing applications at the £36,000 mark. At this level it gives £1,000. Exeter will only begin to provide £1,000 to students from household’s earning £25,000 and below, a full £11,000 less than the Chamberlain Award. Additionally, the Chamberlain Award’s lower tier, starts at anything below £25,000 and provides £2,000 every single year to its students. Bearing in mind that Exeter only considers support at the £25,000 mark and that it offers much less in the second and third years, the ATE bursary falls considerably behind other institutions in providing adequate assistance to those students who need it most, something that surely must be changed.
UNFORTUNATELY, EXETER PROVIDES THE WORST LOW HOUSEHOLD INCOME SUPPORT OUT OF ALL OF THE RUSSELL GROUP INSTITUTIONS.
For comparison, Edinburgh university, much like Birmingham and Oxford, offers a far more progressive and generous level of income support with applications ranging from £42,000 to £16,000 and below, with £7,000 annually being offered to those from the poorest backgrounds, a full £5,500 more than Exeter.
The realisation of the absurdity of this situation is further reinforced when we take into consideration the general living costs of the South West. The region is one of the most expensive, especially when it comes to its private housing market for students. Private rents in the South West in 2015/16 rose to an average of £163.25, an increase of 31.5% since 2011/12, making it the third most expensive region in the UK. Of course the university itself is not liable for this increase, but if bringing Exeter up to speed with other Russell Group institutions in terms of income support wasn’t a valid enough reason to change its assistance, the disproportionally high living costs of the region itself should provide clear incentive.
All of this begs the question. If Exeter aims to be “committed to maintaining an outstanding teaching and learning experience” as per the Russell Group standard, why then does it fail to compete when compared to other institutions and their income support?
On balance, the level of commitment the University has delivered towards its facilities since becoming part of the Russell Group must be fully appreciated. In 2012 alone, £275 million was spent on development programmes across the campus, including the new forum at the cost of £48 million and an expansion of the accommodation halls at the cost of £130 million, to name but a few. More recently, the £52.5 million Living Systems Institute, which is set to be completed in 2016, clearly indicates that the University is investing in its student’s experience to a substantial degree. Therefore, I am not saying the university does not have a commitment towards improving student experience, clearly it does. However, if Exeter is genuinely dedicated to providing “All the support you need to realise your potential” as per its 2017 prospectus, why does it still fall far short of the mark compared to other Russell Group Universities in providing low household income support? Surely alleviating this disparity is an obvious step towards ensuring fairness and comparable support in line with the Russell Group norm. Sadly, it appears that Exeter currently does not share this view.