I have condemned the Government plans to slash staffing in the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). The proposals are contained in a confidential paper entitled ‘BIS 2020 – Finance and Headcount outline’ produced by the Business Innovation and Skills Department. They contain projections for OFFA staff numbers to be reduced from 18 in the coming academic year, to just 6 by 2019/20.
The proposals to reduce staffing by two-thirds at the body responsible for improving access to university run counter to the Prime Minister’s target of doubling the proportion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education from 13.6 per cent in 2009 to 28 per cent in 2020.
Since its establishment in 2004, the Office for Fair Access has played an important role in widening participation to universities, but too many young people still miss out. The Government have set an ambitious target of increasing access to higher education, but they will fail if they slash the team who will be key to its achievement. This decision makes no sense and I’ll be challenging it in Parliament.
The proposed cuts follow the Government’s scrapping of maintenance grants for undergraduate university students and its decision to end bursaries for student nurses, midwives and allied health professions.
As the MP who represents more students than any other and is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Students, I have argued in Parliament that the maintenance grants retained for undergraduates in 2012 were vital to ensure poorer students were not put off from going to university. I have also argued that the nurse bursary cut will deter people from lower income families from entering those professions.