Treasury debates scrapping student fund

Speculation that the Treasury plans to scrapthe £327 million Student Opportunities Fundhas been met with condemnation by Oxford students.

Although no decision has been reached as to whether or not the fund will be cut, it is expected that David Cameron, George Osborne, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander will push forsubstantial reductions or even cutting thefund altogether, after the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) failed to come to an agreement earlier thisweek. The fund is currently used by universities across the country to improve access and success rates for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Andrew Smith, MP for Oxford East, was one ofthe first to speak out against the possibility of cuts in Parliament on Wednesday. He said,“This torpedoes the government’s claimed commitment to social mobility throughhigher education,” he said. “Many universities run fantastic outreach programmes, but these cuts to the Student Opportunity Fundwill mean universities will not be able to afford the staff and other costs to make these aseffective as they need to be. 

A number of students also expressed their anger at the Treasury’s potential plans. OULC chair Dan Turner condemned the proposed cuts: “It’s difficult to see how these cuts will do anything other than damage university efforts to encourage those from worse-off backgrounds to apply for university.

Worse, it will disproportionately affect those collegeswhich make the most effort to recruit disadvantaged students. The whole policy creates perverse incentives and will set back social mobility in higher education across thecountry.”

Jane Cahill, former Queen’s JCR President, also condemned the move. She commented, “Student-led access work is drastically under-funded and under-resourced, despite being the most effective.”

“The students working at Target Schools need better support so they can get away from spreadsheets and emails and engage with students. I don’t see how the student union could fight for that if the university as a whole experiences a cut. Raising tuition fees at the same time as cutting access budgets is just about as regressive an HE strategy as you could hope for.”

As the coalition partners began their debate, OUSU launched a Twitter campaign to garner support for the action against the proposed cuts, calling on Nicola Blackwood to“#SaveStudentOpportunities and protect access funding!”

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OUSU President Tom Rutland told Cherwell, “The government must not renege on its promise to ensure fair access to universities by further cutting the money dedicated to this area.”

He went on to point out that Oxford’s allocation of the Student Opportunities Fund is significant. “Here in Oxford, the £600,000 ofStudent Opportunities Fund money goes towards the widening participation work that the University does in the local community to encourage application to universities, as well as supporting disabled students.”

Oxford University is waiting for a government decision to confirm their position on the matter and clarify what action they might take if the fund is cut. A spokesperson said, “We cannot speculate on any effects this may have on the University before details are confirmed. We are naturally concerned about the impact of any cuts that may affect our ability to support students and encourag ewidening participation, and we will be following the issue closely.”