Higher Education: Admissions

Business, Innovation and Skills written question – answered on 25th November 2010.

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Photo of Mary Macleod Mary Macleod Conservative, Brentford and Isleworth

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills what recent representations he has received on future funding for the Aim Higher scheme; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

I have received a number of letters from schools, other education providers and individuals recently and I am aware of the effect of many of the outreach activities it supports.

In 2004, Aimhigher's funding for the year was £136 million. By the time Labour left office, its annual funding had been reduced by 43% to £78 million. We have been very clear about the importance of widening participation and improving fair access in higher education-all those with the ability should have access to higher education irrespective of family income.

This is why the Coalition is taking a new and different approach that builds on existing best practice, while developing it further. We are establishing a new framework, with increased responsibility on universities to widen participation; and greater Government investment in improving attainment and access for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Within this context, the Aimhigher programme will cease at the end of this academic year (July 2011).

In the future institutions will be accountable for the steps they take to widen participation. Those wanting to charge more than a £6,000 annual graduate contribution will have to demonstrate what more they will do to attract more students from disadvantaged backgrounds through outreach activities, targeted scholarships and other financial support. This will include a requirement to participate in the new £150 million National Scholarships Programme. This work will be further supported by the £2.5 billion pupil premium to turn their school-based achievement into success at university. Universities and schools have learned a lot from the Aimhigher programme about "what works" in raising the aspirations of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Much of this knowledge is now embedded in the sector. It is right that universities have the freedom and flexibility to decide how to spend their resources on promoting access in the ways that will have the most impact for that institution, including through partnerships. This freedom will be accompanied by a regime of sanctions. Access will remain a focus for all institutions, who will continue to submit a Widening Participation Strategic Assessment to the Higher Education Funding Council for England. We are putting student choice at the heart of the system and will support this by ensuring institutions provide prospective students with clear and comparable information about course content, teaching methods and the employment outcomes of previous students.

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