Tim Bradshaw, head of the Russell Group, which represents the most selective UK universities, called on ministers to make more money available to widen access, rather than “putting all the blame on universities”. The Independent reports.
His comments come as the group of 24 elite universities, which includes Oxford and Cambridge, are in the spotlight for failing to admit sufficient numbers of students from ethnic minorities and poorer backgrounds.
Overall, just over 3 per cent of school leavers admitted to the most prestigious institutions last year were black – and just 6.5 per cent of the same intake came from the most disadvantaged areas in the UK.
But speaking exclusively to The Independent, Mr Bradshaw called on the OfS and the Department for Education to help boost student diversity and said reintroducing the grants, which were worth £3,500 a year, could make a “substantial difference” to young people “nervous” about taking on additional debt. The grants were scrapped by the government in 2016/17.
“I think if you give a grant to those students then you might encourage even more to consider applying for university in the first place and think it is actually something they can really aspire to – and that it won’t land them in additional debt at the end of the day,” Mr Bradshaw added.
One option includes providing a “living wage” grant of £8,192 a year for students eligible for free schools meals, which they said would reduce the debt of eligible students by £27,800.
Welcoming Mr Bradshaw’s suggestion that maintenance grants be introduced, Amatey Doku, National Union of Students (NUS) vice president for higher education, told The Independent that it was “a terrible mistake” for the government to have scrapped them.
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