Aimhigher university access scheme scrapped

woman student at PC Ministers say social mobility has stalled

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A scheme aimed at getting more children from poor homes into England's universities has been scrapped.

The Universities Minister, David Willetts, has confirmed the Aimhigher programme will close in July.

He said universities were being given increased responsibility for widening participation, and would need to show they were attracting poor students to be allowed to charge higher fees.

Students say the government is telling them to aim lower.

Mr Willetts made the announcement at a higher education conference in London.

It comes a day after demonstrations were held across the UK in opposition to the government's plans to charge students in England tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year.

Social mobility

As many as 2,500 schools, 300 colleges and 100 universities have been involved in the Aimhigher scheme, which attempts to encourage teenagers or primary school pupils from less-advantaged backgrounds to go to university.

The project received £136m in government funding in 2004, but this had fallen to £78m by the time of the general election.

Start Quote

Ministers are sending the miserable message to students and their families that rather than aim higher, they should aim lower”

End Quote Aaron Porter National Union of Students

Mr Willetts said: "Aimhigher has assisted universities and schools to learn a lot about what works in raising the aspirations of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, but we now need to use this knowledge to make much faster progress on social mobility."

Ministers say social mobility stalled under the last government, and that they are giving universities increased responsibilities to widen participation and investing more in improving access for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

There will now be a £150m National Scholarship programme, they add.

And universities which want to charge more than £6,000 a year in tuition fees will have to show they are involved with outreach work to attract less-advantaged students.

The National Union of Students condemned the decision, saying that the scholarship programme money would be out-weighed by cuts to the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which is paid to the poorest students in sixth forms and colleges.

NUS president Aaron Porter said: "Ministers are sending the miserable message to students and their families that rather than aim higher, they should aim lower.

"Attempts to triple tuition fees, slash education budgets, and remove the EMA from poorer college students whilst simultaneously pulling the plug on Aimhigher will give further cause to those who believe this government wishes to restrict education to a narrow elite."

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