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An off-hand attitude to bursaries?

December 18, 2009

The Russell Group recently welcomed the announcement from OFFA (download pdf) that scholarships and bursaries are helping students to overcome barriers in higher education.

The School of English at Leeds has recently axed £50-£60k worth of postgraduate bursaries and frozen its Bonamy Dobrée PG scholarship. Deans elsewhere are considering reducing bursaries and scholarships as expendable expenses under the demands of the ill-conceived ‘economies exercise’.

Certainly, the University of Leeds still offers significant scholarship support and staff across the campus work hard to facilitate and maintain these valuable widening-participation and support facilities. The UCU was alarmed, though, to hear of a joke that the Vice-Chancellor (current chair of the Russell Group) made to UCU members about scholarships when he met with the Standing Committee of the School of English on 1 May earlier this year. When asked by a member of that committee about the future of widening participation in the austere economic climate of the forthcoming months and years, Professor Michael Arthur’s  response was to say that if that member of staff cared about the issue so much he/she should donate a portion of his/her salary to the university. Stunned, the member of committee stated that he/she preferred to donate to charities, and asked if the VC saw widening participation as the work of charity in the future. One UCU member stated: “in other words, part of the commitment he and others made to get tuition fees through in the first place was now being presented as the work of charity”  and “I would stand by my memory of this; it was not a confidential conversation, as far as I was aware, and there was nothing traplike or conniving about the question, which was simple and open”. Another told us: “I remember this exchange very vividly. I found the VC’s remark breathtaking and it has remained with me ever since. I certainly stand by my memory.” A further UCU member present recalls: “I also remember the VC saying we should donate a portion of our salary to the university as a gesture of charity. I was stunned by the insensitivity of the VC’s remark.”

The UCU continue to support widening-participation and oppose the reduction of bursary provision and oppose the threat of increases in student fees.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2009 9:57 AM

    Unbelievable! (And I say this after the range of what I am prepared to believe about senior management has widened considerably).

  2. An academic permalink
    December 21, 2009 3:34 PM

    Having witnessed this exchange, I’m not sure the VC was aware he was joking, although many present found his position laughable.

    It is a sad state of affairs when elite univeristies assume a model of deficits in relation to widening participation students (eg. they require “charity” rather than the commitment of resources).

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