The changes made to the National Scholarship Programme detailed by the Treasury after George Osborne’s speech outlining the spending review this week will result in the disappearance of small bursaries for disadvantaged undergraduates to the tune of £300 million.
Photo: The Back Bencher
In the aftermath of the increase in tuition fees, the raison d’etre of the programme was to aid undergraduates entering higher education. Through the scheme, £150 million in government funding was to be matched by Universities, providing £300 million in financial support. Under the changes, savings of £100 million are to be made from the programme with the remaining £50 million designated to provide financial support for postgraduates from 2015.
In her response to the implications of the spending review on students, the President of the National Union of Students, Toni Pearce, commented: “by committing the Government to taking money out of students’ pockets through cuts to Nick Clegg’s National Scholarship Programme, George Osborne has turned his back on those who are not able to rely on financial support from their families.”
Pearce’s reaction stressed the importance of financial support to undergraduates whereby “student support is not a prize for getting into university; it is a vital lifeline for students that can be the difference between getting a degree or dropping out. The fact that unscrupulous loan sharks are preying upon students shows how serious the financial problems of many have become, and today’s announcements stand to make that worse, not better.”
According to the University of Bristol’s vice chancellor: “The sector’s experience was that the National Scholarship Programme was not succeeding as planned and, while we regret the loss of funding, are pleased to see £50 million going into postgraduate support where it will fill a very important need.” While postgraduate support from 2015 is given a £50 million boost, it falls far short of remedying the abysmal system of postgraduate funding. Currently, there is no equivalent loan system available to postgraduates as there is for undergraduates. Moreover, an implication of the loss of Government teaching funding will be to see postgraduate fees rise.
The loss of crucial support to undergraduates from low income families will come as an embarrassment to the Liberal Democrats who have accepted this change after having initially championed the programme. With this cut, the legacy of the Liberal Democrat MP for Norwich South, Simon Wright, will be further tarnished.
Foreseeable results of the loss of this provision of financial support include the increased stress placed upon undergraduates struggling under unprecedented financial pressure as well as the active discouragement of prospective undergraduates.