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Universities step in to save scholarships

Four leading universities have stepped in to make up for government cuts in scholarships for the poorest students, a national survey has found.

Leicester, University College London, Warwick and York universities are between them spending over £2 million to provide financial support that would have been lost next year due to cuts in the National Scholarship Programme.

Across the country £100m is being removed from the NSP budget a year earlier than expected, following a surprise announcement from the Government last month. Universities were told to re-submit their plans for widening access to higher education, taking the cuts into account, this week.

Many have struggled to fully make up for the losses, and have opted to offer students cash rather than tuition fee waivers to help compensate for reductions in the value of the scholarships.

The University of Leicester is one of a handful of institutions that have reached into their pockets to make sure that students from disadvantaged background do not lose out. It has decided to replace the whole of the £700,000 it expects to lose and to fund itself the 233 scholarships that would otherwise be lost. There will be no reduction in the scholarship amount of £3,000.

"Our motto is 'Elite without being elitist' and we are committed to attracting the brightest regardless of their background.  That’s why we have decided not to pass on any of these government reductions to students," said Leicester’s Vice-chancellor Professor Sir Bob Burgess.

"Any home or EU undergraduates starting in September next year will receive the same amount of scholarship funding as they would have done before the changes were announced by the government."

University College London (UCL) will also be covering the shortfall of £600,000 it would have suffered in its National Scholarship Programme (NSP) funding and will be distributing 315 awards in the next academic year.

“UCL is committed to widening our participation from under-represented students and, for 2014-15, the NSP bursary is an important element in meeting this commitment,” said a spokesman. “We are happy to cover these costs to ensure that no student is disadvantaged by the sudden changes.”

Warwick University said that it expected to find £500,000 from its own coffers to subsidise two-thirds of the amount it would be losing from the government.

“Rather than lose individual scholarships, we’re going to reduce the value of the award,” said a spokesman. “Some of the £3,000 scholarships will be reduced to £2,000.”

York is the fourth university that has resolved to use its own money to soften the blow of the government cut. But it is not able to fully make it up. Instead it is putting in £350,000 extra of its own money, thereby compensating for half the lost government funding.

York has also reviewed funding for scholarship students in their first year. It has used the lifting of the restriction on money that can be given to students as cash to give 100 per cent accommodation bursaries in line with what the students said they wanted.

“This means that we are providing for all UK students in the lowest household income bracket, under £15,000, attending the University of York with an award that is now entirely a cash-type benefit, double the Government minimum of £2,000 and guaranteed for all,” said a spokesman.

The Higher Education Funding Council (Hefce) said it expected institutions to at least maintain the total level of funding they had originally committed to in their original access agreement.

All universities in the survey, conducted by the higher education media and intelligence agency Media FHE, said they were doing this. But many were not able to fully compensate for lost scholarship funding.

Southampton, which this year received funding of £918,000 to support 306 students on scholarships of £3,000 is reducing the number of awards next year to 189 and cutting their value to £2,000 for a total outlay of £378,000.

King’s College London said that it was planning to offer 595 NSP awards but that the amount of the awards would be reduced. Bristol said that it would be reducing the value of the award because it could not absorb the full government cut but it was doing its best to keep the financial impact on students to a minimum.

The University of Derby, which is losing £1.29m of government funding, said that it would be offering scholarships of £2,000 rather than £3,000 to 1,035 students next year.

The University of Cambridge will be reducing the number of scholarships it makes from 290 to 208.

The University of Bedfordshire said that it would be offering cash scholarships of £2,000 next year instead of an award worth £3000 made up of £1000 in cash and the rest in fee waiver. This is because it has lost £1.024m of government money.

Commenting on the universities’ decisions, Hefce said: “At a time when finances are under pressure, it is very encouraging that universities and colleges are trying to minimise the impact of the reduction to NSP funding on their new intake of students in 2014.”