When £3,000 "top-up" fees were introduced a new regulator was set up to ensure "fair access" to students from all backgrounds. Universities have introduced generous bursary schemes for students from the poorest backgrounds, with Imperial giving out around £500,000 this year. The bursary is designed to help with living expenses, in an attempt to encourage students who might be put off by the higher fees.
Yesterday the regulator, Sir Martin Harris, stated that he felt this was not working, with no noticeable increase in the number of students from poor backgrounds in the first year. This is despite the Office for Fair Access (Offa) having not completed its review of the bursary schemes, with no evidence as to how many students received money from their universities.
Sir Martin's view, supported by current higher education minister Bill Rammell, is that bursary money would be better spent on summer courses and encouragement for pre-GCSE teenagers from poorer backgrounds, encouraging them to take a path to university earlier on. Neither man suggested how those poor students could afford to attend a university with reduced bursaries.
Sir Martin and Mr Rammell stated that they were talking about bursaries in future, rather than depriving any students of bursaries they already receive.
The NUS has responded, with Vice President (Education) Wes Streeting telling the Guardian: "I am surprised Martin Harris feels able to draw such firm conclusions very early on. I am really worried he is underplaying the importance of bursaries."