Increase in bursaries gives hope to new students

by Emily

In the run-up to the start of the university year, many students - especially freshers - will be worrying about the debt that they will accrue during their degree. Indeed, tuition fees and their effect on students' financial well-being have been at the top of the educational news agenda for some time.

This week saw some positive news, however, for some students. The Office of Fair Access (Offa), which protects access to university for less well-off students, stated this week that universities in England have slightly raised the proportion of their income they give as bursaries. Sir Martin Harris, director of Offa, says the continued expenditure showed universities and colleges "strong ongoing commitment to widening access".

The Russell Group of universities says that it is at the forefront of the bursary increases, saying that it had "greatly exceeded Offa's requirements yet again". Nearly a third of students at its universities received a bursary or scholarship, including 31,000 of the very poorest students who received nearly five times the minimum bursary.

Of course, the news has attracted some criticism, with both the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU) saying that not enough is being done to distribute enough funds in a fair manner.

True, the rise is very small - 0.8 per cent - but it is a rise nonetheless and a step in the right direction. It means that in 2008-09, the total amount universities spent on bursaries had risen to £344m, up from £219m the previous year. Each qualifying student now has to be awarded a mandatory £310.