Government to discontinue Access to Learning Fund

The Access to Learning Fund (ALF) has been scrapped by the government, as part of a £125 million cut to funding for higher education announced by Business Secretary Vince Cable and Universities Minister David Willetts. The ALF is now set to be subsumed by the Student Opportunity Fund.

The University of Sussex made 133 awards from the access to learning fund, totalling £155,670.21, raising doubts about how it will be able to support the most financially strained student’s once the ALF is discontinued.

The letter by Cable and Willetts told the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to “simplify funding streams by where they seek to deliver a similar objective”. The letter also expressed concern about the “substantial upward drift” of management salaries and outlined a cut of £125 million to the HEFCE’s budget, whilst stating that savings should “protect as much as possible high cost subjects (including STEM).”

The National Union of Students (NUS) has strongly condemned the government’s decision, with Vice President Rachel Wenstone stating: “This is money coming out of the pockets of those students who are in most need of emergency support if they are to avoid dropping out.

The funding council (HEFCE) has been placed in the position of choosing between the funding that supports those from the most deprived backgrounds into higher education and the hardship support that makes it possible for many students to stay the course.”

Sophie van der Ham, Student’s Union Welfare Officer, also expressed disappointment at the proposed cutbacks.
Speaking to The Badger, she said: “This is yet another blow from a government bent on cutting support for the most disadvantaged students and creating a more elitist higher education system.

The Access to Learning Fund is crucial for providing students who need help with their living costs in order to complete their courses.”

She added: “It is appalling that these cuts have been condoned following the removal of the National Scholarship Programme, which aided students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I can only hope that the University can absorb the costs now that the government is failing its students.”

In response to the revelations, a University of Sussex spokesperson said “It is too early to assess the impact on Sussex of the merging of the Student Opportunity Fund and the Access to Learning Fund.”

However, the University remains optimistic, saying: “Sussex is committed to ensuring that talented students from all backgrounds can enjoy a Sussex education. We already have in place some of the most generous and comprehensive schemes in the sector and the amount that we spend on scholarships and financial support for our students is at an all-time high of £4.4 million a year.”

The news follows warnings by the NUS of a looming ‘cost of living crisis’ for students in higher education, expressing concern that financial difficulties are pushing many students into ‘dropping out’ and that “available financial support in loans and grants failing to keep pace with spiralling bills for basic essentials”, with loans and maintenance grants frozen at 1% growth since March last year.