28 November 2013

Cuts to Student Opportunity funding would damage social mobility and hurt the Treasury, concludes new report

A new study into Student Opportunity funding, worth £332 million in 2013-14, has warned that cuts to this successful driver of social mobility would hurt students with disabilities, mature students and young people from financially disadvantaged backgrounds across the country. The report is issued against a backdrop of budget problems at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills following the failure to control course places at unregulated private providers.

Student Opportunity funding: Why it counts, published by the university think-tank million+ and NEON (the National Education Opportunities Network), examines how universities have established a diverse array of programmes with this funding that target specific areas of disadvantage to good effect. It concludes that because the funding follows the student, the money is efficiently targeted, financing the universities and programmes that are most successful. It also concludes that any moves to reduce this element of social mobility support is likely to undermine successful and innovative programmes and halt or even reverse some of the progress that has been made in encouraging participation in higher education of students from under-represented groups.

The June Spending Review identified a requirement for the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to cut at least £45 million in 2015-16 by ‘re-prioritising’ the teaching grant which is allocated to universities and which includes the Student Opportunity Allocation. This will come at the same time as a cut of £100million from the National Scholarship Programme, another mechanism intended to support social mobility through university. The million+ and NEON report highlights the strong return on investment to the Treasury which results from its funding of undergraduate degrees, and concludes that the Student Opportunity funding should be treated as an investment and should therefore be strengthened rather than a target for further savings.

Professor Michael Gunn, Chair of Million+ and Vice Chancellor of Staffordshire University, said:

“The leaders of all three major political parties in England have recognised the importance of social mobility. Student Opportunity funding works and has enabled universities to make huge strides in supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter higher education but it remains work in progress.

“Any move to reduce this successful area of funding would cast doubt on the sincerity of politicians who, while supporting social mobility in speeches, would in practice be cutting funds that make a difference.”

Dr Graeme Atherton, Director, NEON, said:

“Student Opportunity funding is an efficient source of finance that follows the student in an ecosystem that gets results, improves the UK’s economic competitiveness and offers a long term return on investment to the Treasury.

“Any move to reduce or replace Student Opportunity funding would result in a less effective system and leave both individuals and taxpayers worse off over the long term.”


Notes to Editors

1. For more information please contact Victoria Robinson, Press and Communications Officer, press@millionplus.co.uk, 020 7717 1658

2. million+ is the leading university think-tank, working to solve the complex problems in higher education - www.millionplus.ac.uk.

3. NEON is the professional organisation for widening access to higher education in England - www.educationopportunities.co.uk

4. The full research report Student Opportunity Funding - Why it counts can be found here

5. For examples of how this funding is successfully invested read our case study blogs here

Key facts and figures: 

• There are three main components to the Student Opportunity allocation, which were collectively worth £332 million in 2013-14: widening access; improving retention & success; and supporting disabled students

• A £45 million reduction to the Student Opportunity allocation would reduce the funding that higher and further education institutions will receive in 2013-14 to support student access, retention and success by 13.6%

• HEFCE figures suggest that participation rates in the most advantaged areas increased from 46 per cent to 53 per cent between 1998-99 and 2011-12.

• Participation rates in the most disadvantaged areas increased faster but remain lower, rising from 18 per to 30 per cent (12 percentage points) over the same period.