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Reliance on student opportunity fund revealed

Two-fifths of widening participation activities were funded by a now-defunct student opportunity allocation.

The extent of the funding gap faced by universities seeking to recruit and retain students from poor homes is revealed in a report published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England on 6 July. It comes as institutions seek to meet government targets on taking more students from disadvantaged backgrounds by 2020.

The Student Opportunity Allocation, the funds for which have been halved for 2016-17, was a “key source of funding” in 2014-15, representing some 39 per cent of the total expenditure, according to the report. It credits this “sustained institutional investment” with enabling universities to make “considerable progress” in widening access. The funding council has now replaced the Student Opportunity fund with three new programmes: the National Collaborative Outreach Programme, provision for disabled students and a student outcomes premium, which are intended to reflect government priorities. Despite the cuts, the report says that widening access and supporting successful outcomes will remain a “key priority”.

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