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Scholarship scheme won't attract poor students, report warns

The planned National Scholarship Programme (NSP) could fail to persuade young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue higher education, a new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warns.

The £50m scheme was suggested in light of the Government’s decision to increase tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 a year. Universities would be expected to provide funding in line with this, including a support package for poorer students, tuition fee waivers, cash bursaries and campus discounts.

However, the report by the IFS claims that the programme is plagued by “complexity and uncertainty”, due to the fact that the 90 different English universities vary in the fees they charge and in the type and amount of financial support that they offer to students.

The report states: “Universities are free to design their own student support packages, with noticeable differences in the scale and complexity across institutions.

“Some schemes are based on parental income, while others take into account neighbourhood disadvantage. Others focus on academic ability or are based on a range of characteristics.”

Therefore potential students would be unable to ascertain in advance how much support they would obtain.

Labour’s shadow higher education minister, Shabana Mahmood MP, criticised the current government for having “abolished” efforts to finance support programmes for students. 

The chief executive of Million+, Pam Tatlow, stated: “We warned that the National Scholarship Programme would be unfair because universities which are most successful in creating new opportunities for students have to bolster the NSP with their own funds. As a result, there is a postcode lottery for students.”

Nevertheless, a spokeswoman for BIS asserted: “The NSP will double in value next year and help even more students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We are always open to hearing how this programme can be improved to make sure that it is targeted at those who need it most, which is exactly why we have reconvened the expert group to make sure we are doing just that.”

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