Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Cornwall's Higher Education Bursary agreed by Cabinet

This morning, Cornwall Council's cabinet agreed to press ahead with the plan for a higher education bursary. As I've written before, it's a good scheme which will provide a lot of help to local young people. But I raised some concerns about the details and got some answers:

- The current plan is to target students studying 'competitive' degrees at the top 30 universities. Cllr Bert Biscoe suggested that this was discriminatory and that we should not be cutting off at the top 30 universities and, in particular, that we should be including universities in Cornwall within the scheme. Others have also suggested that there are degrees which are currently excluded from the plan which are still of huge value to Cornwall.

- I raised the issue of the proposal to give £30 to every student from Cornwall, regardless of their family wealth or income. I suggested that this money could be better targeted at the poorest students. In response, the cabinet member suggested that he wanted to see a universal system of support, regardless of income. He also said that, by including all students in the scheme, the council was more likely to attract advertisers to the website that lists the things the money can be spent on. The director of education made the suggestion (but gave no guarantee) that the amount got in from advertisers could even be enough to cover the costs of giving the £30 to richer students.

I'm still not sold on this. I think that this is money which could be better targeted at the students from poorer backgrounds. Giving them up to £3000 over 3 years is very welcome, but is only a drop in the ocean compared with the estimated £50,000 of debt they will leave college with. Could we provide a little more help in targeted cases?

- Some, like my colleague Geoff Brown, have queried the decision to delay the start of the scheme until 2014. With two cohorts of young people going through university with the new fee regime, could we not have started sooner. In reply, the Director made it clear that we are relying on EU structural funding for this project and we cannot even apply for the money until next year - hence the need to delay until 2014.

- Finally, I asked about the apprenticeships pledge. Cornwall Council is promising to create 200 new apprenticeships and I asked why this is so small compared with Sheffield's 4000. It turns out that Sheffield is looking to create this number across their entire region, not just within the authority and Cornwall's comparable number is 7000. I'm happy to be corrected on this.

So whilst this continues to be a great project, it does now seem to be slightly less certain to go ahead as we are reliant on a successful EU funding bid. And I believe that we are missing the chance to make an even bigger difference for some of our poorest young people.

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