The Sutton Trust is proposing the creation of a bounty fund of tens of millions of pounds a year to reward universities that make special efforts to recruit students from poorer homes.

In its submission to Lord Browne’s Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance, the Trust says that universities which wish to charge higher tuition fees must deliver an extended programme of high quality outreach and access work.

It also urges the new Government to pilot a scheme whereby students from low income homes should get their first year of university for free. It says: “The free first year would alleviate some of the risk and uncertainty that deter non-privileged students from applying to certain courses and institutions.”

These proposals are in response to the latest figures emerging from the Office of Fair Access around entry to the most selective universities. These show that while over 18% of young people from the most privileged fifth of neighbourhoods go to selective universities, the same is true of just 2% of those from the least-privileged fifth. And while the chances of better-off young people entering top universities have increased since the mid-1990s, the likelihood of poorer students doing the same has been more or less flat.

The submission states that: “The Trust believes that for the university sector to remain competitive – and to pay for the increase in places necessary for social mobility – higher levels of funding are required. A moderate rise in the tuition fees cap and introducing a real rate of interest on student loans seem to us to be the most realistic means of achieving this. Nonetheless, measures to safeguard access must be hard-wired into any settlement. There is a danger that a substantial increase in – and variation of – tuition fees could negatively impact on student choices in a way the current regime has not, particularly in the absence of adequate and objective advice around university options.”

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said

“It is only fair that the young people who benefit from university should be expected to pay a share of the cost. But it is also only fair that those universities that work hardest to recruit the brightest and best students from non-privileged backgrounds – and to raise aspirations more broadly – should be rewarded for doing so. So we need to make sure that outreach work and access issues are centre stage in any new deal, and that effective mechanisms are in place to ensure that no-one is deterred from a particular university choice because of cost.”

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