Universities chief calls for ministers to bring back maintenance grants amid diversity criticism
Ministers must bring back maintenance grants if the number of students from poorer backgrounds attending the country’s top universities is to rise, the institutions’ boss has said.
Tim Bradshaw, head of the Russell Group, said the Government had to play its part in closing the gap rather than “putting all the blame on universities”.
It comes as figures earlier this year showed that the UK’s top 24 institutions were failing to accept enough students from ethnic minorities and poorer backgrounds - prompting criticism from ministers and the Office for Students.
Just 6.5% of last year’s intake of school leavers came from the most disadvantaged areas in the UK, while only 3% were black.
Maintenance grants for students from lower incomes backgrounds were scrapped by former Chancellor George Osborne in 2015, and replaced by loans, to cut costs to the taxpayer.
But Mr Bradshaw told the Independent the grant could make a “substantial difference” to young people “nervous” about debt.
“I think if you give a grant to those students then you might encourage even more to consider applying for university in the first place and think it is actually something they can really aspire to – and that it won’t land them in additional debt at the end of the day,” the group’s chief said.
When asked whether £9,250 a year tuition fees and the loss of maintenance grants could be putting students from poorer backgrounds off going to university, Mr Bradshaw added: “Yes it might be. The student loans system is very complicated and difficult to understand.”
The Russell Group is drawing up solutions on how maintenance grants can be restored amid a Government review into funding for over-18s in education, including proposlas for a “living wage” for students who received free school meals.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Finance should never be a barrier to a young person’s education, and we are seeing real progress, with disadvantaged 18 year olds 50 per cent more likely to enter full-time university in 2017 compared with 2009.
“We have increased the maximum grants and loans available to support students with costs, and disadvantaged students starting their courses this year will have access to the largest ever amounts of cash-in-hand support for their living costs.
“On top of this, from next year, universities are working with the OfS – backed by £860m funding – to encourage more young people from disadvantaged groups to apply to university and give them the support they need when they get there.”