Disadvantaged students hit hardest as Student Opportunity Fund cut by 60%

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In Week 1, Lent Term, universities across the country received news that the Government are planning to make cuts of up to 60% to the Student Opportunity fund, as the Treasury and Cabinet Office aim to reduce spending costs in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

The fund, which is paid to universities and colleges through the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), enables universities to support the added costs of recruiting students from disadvantaged backgrounds and ensures that they can continue this support throughout the students’ time in higher education. The HEFCE takes into account students’ social background and disability, therefore allowing universities to reach out to a wider range of students.

Currently, Lancaster University receives over £200 million pounds from the government to support these students. However, the proposed cuts will see this fund reduced by 60%. This future reduction comes shortly after cuts to The National Scholarship Programme towards the end of 2013. The scheme, which similarly supports students from low income backgrounds, saw its funds cut by £100 million pounds.

The National Union of Students (NUS) have responded to the news of the cuts by launching a Twitter campaign using the hash tag #SaveStudentOpportunities. The social media-centred demonstration encourages students to tweet pictures of themselves holding the ‘Don’t Cut Student Opportunities’ sign and using the hashtag in tweets to Nick Clegg, their local MPs and the twitter account for the BIS department, to encourage support against the reduction of funds.

The NUS president Toni Pearce has said “cutting the Student Opportunity Fund is an absolute disgrace and, in the wake of cuts to The National Scholarship Programme, looks like the government is backtracking on its commitment to support social mobility in favour of balancing the books on the backs of the poor.” She also commented that “when the government is lavishing funds on profit providers, it is particularly outrageous that it is once again stripping away opportunities from the poorest students.”

Rachel Harvey, VP (Campaigns and Communications) personally responded to the talk of the cuts with an article on the LUSU website, titled ‘Time to Cut the Crap’. Talking about her personal experiences, Harvey says in the article “without higher education outreach programmes from universities people such as my sisters and myself may not have had the chance to go to university.” She also says “we can stop this and change things for future students,” and urges readers to “write to your local MP and urge them not to support this, tell your friends and spread the news.”

When speaking to SCAN, Harvey said that she is trying a more personal approach to gain support for the campaign, as demonstrated in her article. She says the most important thing at the moment is to work with the University. However, Harvey says the hardest part of the campaign will be targeting people who are not involved and do not rely on the Student Opportunity Fund.

In response to the cut to the Student Opportunity Fund, the University said that “Lancaster is committed to attracting students from all backgrounds and making sure that they get the most out of their university experience. This important work will carry on despite the current uncertainty around funding.”

As of yet, the government have not made a final decision on the cuts and the budget for the BIS department from 2014-2015 is still in discussion. This means there is still time for the NUS campaign to make a change.

To find out more about the NUS campaign you can visit their website or Twitter page.

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