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Sussex still committed to bursaries over fee waivers

Despite government pressure on universities to create fee waivers at the expense of bursary schemes, the University of Sussex will not be altering their First Generation Scholars scheme.

The Coalition has recently announced incentives for universities that charge the lowest fees, and have threatened universities with fewer places if they don’t drop their prices from £9000.

These moves indicate their desire to drive fees down in order to reduce the student loans bill, amid fears that billions of pounds will never be paid back.

The Coalition has strongly endorsed fee waivers, which would effectively provide discounted tuition fees for less well-off students.

President of the National Union of Students (NUS), Liam Burns, has argued that fee waivers are an “elaborate con trick”.

He has stated that it would “reduce the amount of subsidy on the Treasury’s books without actually reducing the amount most graduates pay back”.

The Office For Fair Access (OFFA) has announced that 28 universities have expressed an interest in submitting revised fee plans for 2012.

The revised fee plans would establish a lower tuition fee charge for those Universities, as well as an increase in fee waiver agreements.

Despite this, the University of Sussex has decided to pursue its First Generation Scholars scheme for students beginning in 2012.

Sussex’s First Generation Scholar’s scheme, as agreed by the Office For Fair Access in July of this year, will provide new students with a £5000 bursary if their family income is less than £42,600.

In eschewing the Coalition’s encouragement for fee waivers over bursaries, Sussex’s scheme goes far beyond the minimum requirements laid down by the Government.

The Coalition’s minimum requirements suggest universities provide £3000 bursary support, and suggest giving bursaries to those with under £25,000 family income.

Sussex’s First Generation Scholar’s bursary scheme also offers a summer school at Sussex to prepare disadvantaged students for university.

It provides a £2000 fee waiver for the first year, or the equivalent in rent, which would mean a rent reduction of £50 per week for the first year.

The scheme will also provide funded placements or internships, and three years’ ‘aftercare’ to help graduates into a career.

Last year’s Student Union President, Cameron Tait asserted: “we have worked closely with the University to design a comprehensive support package to enable students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds to come to study at Sussex.”

Claire Mackie, Sussex’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, said: “In constructing the financial support package for students from 2012, we were very aware that bursaries (in contrast to fee waivers) provide direct financial support to students while they are studying.”

She argues that the First Generation Scholars scheme is “among the most financially generous in the country and therefore helps to meet our goal of ensuring that talented students can benefit from the experience that Sussex provides, whatever their background.”

The NUS President, Liam Burns, has argued that in pushing universities towards fee waivers, the government will “fail to provide vulnerable students with the funds they need whilst studying.”

He asserts that: “the only advantage for poorer students comes if they go on to become particularly high earners in later life, when they no longer need that advantage, as their total debt will be lower and they’ll be debt-free quicker.

“The government is appearing to champion the disadvantaged whilst in reality it is doing anything but that.”

It is last year’s Student Union President, Cameron Tait’s hope that Sussex’s First Generation Scholars scheme will “set the standard amongst UK universities aiming to offset the government’s regressive higher education reforms.”

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