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Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
More cash to recruit poor students
lecture theatre
A variety of schemes are aimed at widening access
An extra 131m is to be spent on encouraging students from "disadvantaged" backgrounds to apply for university places.

The package - the Excellence Challenge - will be spent over three years: 33m next year, 56m the year after and 62m in 2003/4.

The cash will be spent on bursaries for youngsters from inner-city areas, on summer schools programmes and on giving clearer information about the routes to higher education.

College archway
The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, raised the issue in his attack on elitism
"You would be surprised at how much ignorance there is about university entrance," said the Higher Education Minister, Tessa Blackstone, as she unveiled the plans to the annual conference of university heads, Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals (CVCP), at the University of Durham's Stockton-on Tees campus.

Part of the programme, she said, would channel funds directly to universities to allow them to appoint more admissions staff and to send "ambassadors" to schools and colleges.

For the "high demand" universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, there will be a "something for something" package which will work with funds spent by them to tackle issues of wider access.

The measures come in the wake of the Laura Spence affair, where Oxford University was accused by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of being "elitist" for not offering a place to a Tyneside comprehensive pupil.

The Chancellor had already announced 20m for next year for the access schemes, as part of education's share of the comprehensive spending review.

Baroness Blackstone said the government wanted to see more students "who want to study vocational subjects and more students who have spent time in the workplace and need to improve their qualifications".

She stressed that the package did not amount to "some from of patronising positive discrimination for working class pupils" and said wider access would not lead to a watering down of standards.

"There is no point in a degree if it does not require hard work, intellectual rigour and breadth of knowledge in order to achieve it," she added.

University's commitment

The CVCP welcomed the minister's announcement, saying that it endorsed the existing commitment of universities to wider access.

Its president, Professor Sir Howard Newby, Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University, told the conference: "The commitment is made very clear by us.

"We too want to ensure that all students - regardless of age, gender, economic circumstances or parental background - can get access to higher education. And we must all work together to ensure this happens."

Professor Phillip Love, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, said the extra cash was welcome, but stressed that universities were already working to attract applications from lower socio-economic groups.

"We're doing it, they're pushing on an open door," he told BBC News Online.

"Too often it's universities which are criticised in this area, but that's not justified.

"It's not universities unwillingness to take disadvantaged students, it's the social problems and quality of teaching in some parts of the country."

The Shadow Education Secretary, Theresa May, accused Labour of having broken its word by introducing tuition fees.

"Labour may be announcing large sums of money now but they have spent three years reducing access to universities, particularly for students who come from low-income homes," she said.

The BBC's Mike Baker
"There has been little progress in attracting students from deprived backgrounds"
See also:

05 Sep 00 | Education
17 Aug 00 | Correspondents
19 Jun 00 | Education
19 Jul 00 | Education
10 May 00 | Unions 2000
05 Jun 00 | Education
26 May 00 | Education
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