THE UNIVERSITY of Portsmouth’s vice-chancellor has pledged to support the poorest students despite announcing fees of £8,500 a year – just shy of the £9,000 maximum.
Professor John Craven admitted he could have offered fees of £7,000, but opted for the higher amount to enable generous bursaries for about 30 per cent of students.
He said: ‘Reaching out to the poorest students is our priority.
‘Yes, we could have set the fees a bit lower but we wanted to be in a position where we could offer generous bursaries to the least well-off.
‘The biggest danger about this new scheme of funding (students directly funding universities through fees) is that in parts of Portsmouth where there isn’t a tradition of going into higher education, people will from a young age think they can’t afford to.
‘We’re trying to offset that, and will be visiting schools and colleges to tell them there is no up-front cost for their fees and that our bursaries will help finance their living costs.’
Under the university’s proposals, students whose family incomes are less than £25,000 will receive a bursary of £1,000 each year, as well as £2,000 off their fees in the first year.
There will also be funds for students with family incomes up to £42,600 which will see about 1,500 first year students paying a lower fee and around 7,000 students receiving a bursary.
Prof Craven, 61, who graduated from Cambridge in 1970 with a degree in maths and economics, said he was anticipating minimal research cuts – 10 per cent in real terms over the next four years – but gradually rising teaching and capital funding cuts reaching 75 per cent (£50m) by 2015.
He said: ‘I accept I benefited from free university education, but in my day about seven per cent of my age group went to university and today it’s six times that so it’s fair to say we need a different finance system.
‘While I’m not unhappy with the idea of students funding universities directly, it would be better and less off-putting if they weren’t going to end up with so much debt.
‘It’s going to be much harder now to persuade people of the value of higher education. But I passionately believe there shouldn’t be a barrier to going to university and I will do everything in my power to reach out to those families having doubts for financial reasons.’
The University of Portsmouth joins 30 universities that have made fee proposals that average more than £8,600 – significantly higher than the government’s predicted average of £7,500.
Prof Craven rubbished universities minister and Havant MP David Willetts’ claims that universities would only charge maximum fees in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
He said: ‘We are certainly not going to be exceptional in charging between £8,000 and £9,000 – nobody offering full-time courses is likely to charge £6,000.’