Students: Finance

Innovation, Universities and Skills written question – answered on 21st April 2008.

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Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Secretary of State (Innovation, Universities and Skills)

To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what steps his Department plans to take to ensure that funds allocated by universities for student bursaries are fully spent.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education), Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

The director for fair access is responsible for ensuring that universities have satisfactory access agreements in place as a pre-condition of charging variable fees and for ensuring that institutions comply with these obligations. A range of sanctions is available to the director if a university is found to be in breach. In 2006-07, the director has reported that all universities have complied with the obligations in their access agreements.

The question rests on a misunderstanding of how bursaries work. Institutions do not allocate a fixed amount of expenditure for bursaries. They have made forecasts of the costs of their bursaries packages, but these have always contained a level of uncertainty for methodological reasons. Additionally, a number of universities forecast their highest level of overall payment rather than the most probable outcome.

I have always made it clear that where a university is spending less than it had anticipated on bursaries, it would be right to spend on other activities to encourage widening participation, which will not normally be reported under the access agreement. The Russell Group and the 1994 Group of universities and individual institutions have supported this policy.

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