Press release

Chair of university think-tank urges Deputy Prime Minister to secure future of Student Opportunity funding

21 Jan 2014

Professor Michael Gunn, Vice-Chancellor of Staffordshire University and Chair of the university think-tank million+, has issued an open letter to the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg MP, urging him to intervene in a Coalition disagreement about the future of the Student Opportunity Allocation. This Fund is allocated to universities to help them support and educate students from a wide range of backgrounds. However, the Treasury is seeking a 60% cut in this Fund (worth £332m in 2013-14) in 2014-15 and its complete abolition in 2015-16.

The Deputy Prime Minister has been an advocate for social mobility in the Coalition and has argued for the introduction of the Pupil Premium in schools. The Student Opportunity Allocation operates on the same principles and is distributed to universities on a formulaic basis according to the backgrounds of the students whom they recruit, with some funding also allocated to support students with disabilities.

Professor Michael Gunn said:

“The Student Opportunity Allocation is the last remaining direct funding from Government to support universities which recruit students from a wide range of backgrounds. The May 2010 Coalition Agreement highlighted the importance of social mobility in higher education but the Government has already scrapped the National Scholarship Programme a year early.”

“Social mobility does not stop at the school gate and there is simply no case to cut Student Opportunity funding in universities. I have written directly to the Deputy Prime Minister to ask him to intervene, to ensure that this funding is retained in full.”

Dear Deputy Prime Minister,

Social mobility in higher education and Student Opportunity Allocation

I am writing as a matter of urgency to outline our concerns that HMT and BIS may be considering a substantial cut to the Student Opportunity Allocation in the imminent Annual Grant letter to HEFCE. This vital funding follows the student, akin to the Pupil Premium, and is distributed linked with the background of students which each university recruits and a range of criteria including disability.

Any cuts would come hard on the heels of the termination of the National Scholarship Programme in 2014-15 - a year earlier than expected. As universities, we have welcomed the discretion afforded to us by HEFCE guidance which has allowed us to invest Student Opportunity funding in ways which best meet our student profiles. However we must point out that universities with more socially inclusive student profiles add to the Student Opportunity Allocation from other income streams.

We strongly reject the notion that the Student Opportunity Allocation is no longer required because funding is available via Access Agreements, required by OFFA. These access funds primarily support scholarships, bursaries, outreach activities, partnerships, and emergency welfare funds to mitigate the impact of tuition fees. Many universities with significant numbers of widening participation students do not have large endowment funds and therefore access funding is derived from fee income. Access funds are therefore not a substitute for the Student Opportunity Allocation provided by the Government via HEFCE.

Above all, it would be counter-intuitive to cut the Student Opportunity Allocation so soon after the Chancellor has announced that the Treasury will fund unregulated expansion of student numbers from 2015.

The Student Opportunity Allocation has played a key role in social mobility by funding and supporting progression and success in higher education of students who otherwise might not have studied for a degree. As you have been a forthright advocate for social mobility, we strongly urge you to ensure that the Student Opportunity Allocation is retained in full and is not subject to any further reductions in 2014-15 or 2015-16.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Michael Gunn
Chair, million+
Vice-Chancellor, Staffordshire University


Notes to Editors

1. For further information or to arrange interviews with Professor Michael Gunn, please contact Victoria Robinson, Press and Communications Officer, million+ on 07527 336 795.

2. million+ is a leading university think-tank. More information can be found at:

3. The Student Opportunity Allocation provides additional resource to universities that recruit students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is distributed on a formulaic basis by HEFCE to universities and colleges based on the profile of the students that they have recruited, taking into account social background and disability.

4. Click here to read the full million+ and NEON report: ‘Student Opportunity Funding: Why it counts’.