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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 18:54 GMT 19:54 UK
Oxford grants for poor students
Oxford has been under pressure to widen access
Oxford University has launched a new bursary scheme, offering 2,000 to an estimated 400 students a year from poorer backgrounds, in an attempt to widen access.

Undergraduates whose tuition fees are paid in full by their local education authority will be eligible to apply for the bursaries, which will be made available from autumn 2002.

The bursaries will also be available to students from the European Union.

Colin Lucas
Colin Lucas says the university must attract the brightest students
The scheme - worth 1,000 in the first year and 500 in each subsequent year of study - is being funded initially by a 1m donation from a private donor.

Thereafter the university hopes former students and other benefactors will support the initiative so that it can extend beyond a three-year trial period.

The National Union of Students welcomed the move, but said it would not solve the wider problem of student debt.

Oxford is still smarting from the accusation last year by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, of being elitist after Magdalen College rejected comprehensive school pupil Laura Spence.

The latest figures from the university indicate that, in 2001, 55% of the offers made were to state school applicants and 45% to independent school pupils - compared with 48% to 52%, respectively, five years ago.

Removing barriers

The university's vice-chancellor, Dr Colin Lucas, said the scheme was part of an on-going programme of access initiatives.

If you think Oxford could be for you, but you are worried about how you would pay your way through university, please think again

Professor Jessica Rawson
"The university wants to do all it can to remove barriers - real or perceived - which might deter students with potential from applying for a place. Money can be one such hurdle," Dr Lucas said.

"We want to help students from less well off backgrounds feel that they can come here without suffering financial difficulty."

Professor Jessica Rawson, warden of Merton College, said no able student should be deterred from applying to Oxford by financial concerns.

"Our message to talented students is clear - if you think Oxford could be for you, but you are worried about how you would pay your way through university, please think again," Professor Rawson said.

'Excellent idea'

Engineering undergraduate, Jonathan Eddols, who went to a state school, welcomed the initiative.

Nikki Hall
Former state school pupil, Nikki Hall, would have been eligible for the bursary
"The money they're offering will be a real incentive to bright students who would love to come here, but think they couldn't really afford it," he said.

Second year modern history student, Nikki Hall - who also attended a state school - said the bursary scheme was an excellent idea.

"It just makes university life a viable possibility for those who might consider it," she said.

Nikki would have been eligible for a bursary herself and said it would have made her less dependent on her parents and on vacation work to pay her way.

Potential undergraduates

Pupils taking part in the Aspire Summer School, aimed at widening access to the university, said the scheme would be a help.

Rebecca Eschoe
Rebecca Eschoe would be grateful of extra help
The youngsters, from Archbishop Ilsley School in Birmingham - and also in the constituency of the Education Secretary, Estelle Morris - said student debt was a very real issue.

"I know a lot of people who have been in debt coming to university and it's a big problem - that's one of the key things you worry about," said Year 10 pupil, Richard Cox.

Rebecca Eschoe said: "It'll make a lot of difference because everyone who comes to college gets into debt".

"It'd make me feel better, knowing I'd get some help so it's not so much pressure on my parents," she said.

Student debt

The National Union of Students said that, while it appreciated what Oxford was trying to achieve, the scheme would only affect 0.1% of next year's university entrants.

Richard Cox
Richard Cox: "Debt is something you worry about"
"An estimated 400,000 students will be starting their degree courses in 2002 with no access to bursaries or grants," the union said.

The lack of student funding was a national problem that could only be solved on a national scale by the government, it said.

NUS president, Owain James, said: "The government abolished grants in 1997 and every major independent review since has said that they are needed - and now, even universities are having to help out".

"The NUS is urging the government to act now - solve the crisis for students nationally by investing more money in those who need it the most," Mr James said.

The BBC's Mike Baker
"Oxford has been trying to broaden its intake"
See also:

03 Jun 01 | Education
14 May 01 | Education
11 May 01 | Education
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30 Jun 00 | Education
29 Jan 01 | Education
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